BENGALURU: Who has to monitor the felling of trees in Bengaluru? The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had assured the Karnataka High Court, in 2014, that it would form a greening/tree committees to ensure that the axing of trees is supervised. But, no such committee is in place and none of the government agencies are sure who is responsible for setting it up.
The corporation says that the forest department is answerable and the latter returns the favour, saying the BBMP is responsible for appointing the committee.
A recent online petition by Jhatkaa.org, a city-based campaigning organisation, urges citizens to put pressure on the BBMP to set up these committees. And while the petition is new - just about a week old - the cause isn’t.
Avijit Michael, executive director at Jhatkaa, says that they first had doubts about the existence of these committees when they received a call from Appu Rao, deputy conservator of forests, last year, asking them to join the North Zone Tree Committee.
“We were very excited when we got that call, and accepted his offer. Then in January this year, when the Jayamahal tree felling issue came up, we, as supposed members of this committee, found it odd that we hadn’t been consulted on intimated about this,” says Michael. Nearly a 1,000 trees were to be axed on Jayamahal Main Road for the building of the much-opposed steel flyover.
After this, Jhatkaa filed a query under the Right to Information Act (RTI) in March this year, and a public information officer (PIO) responded claiming that no such committee had been formed yet.
BBMP shirking responsibility?
Michael says that when they tried to contact Rao and other BBMP officials about the status of these committees, their calls were ignored.
When City Express contacted Rao, he claimed not to know anything about the matter.
“The formation of these committees was in the hands of the chief conservator of forests, but that post has been done away with,” says Rao.
He adds, “I don’t have any of the relevant papers in my office, and because the former chief conservator is no longer around, some files have been misplaced.”
Even Manjunath Prasad, Commissioner of BBMP, whom the online petition has been addressed to, denies having anything to do with the committee. Passing on the responsibility to the Forest Department, Prasad tells us that BBMP has no role to play in the setting up of these committees.
However, Dipika Bajpai, deputy conservator of forests, Bengaluru Urban, says that while the forest department will need more clarity on the matter, whatever trees are cut within BBMP limits is the corporation’s responsibility.
“The BBMP cannot evade their responsibility. It’s very convenient to pass the buck on. If permission to cut trees has to come from the BBMP, it is obvious that these committees also should be set up by them,” says Bajpai.
She adds that even if the post of the chief conservator has been abolished, the responsibility now lies with the next in charge, i.e, Appu Rao. She further adds that somewhere around 1999 or 2000, the responsibility of who gives permission for the cutting of trees was handed over to the BBMP, and that she herself has only a minor role to play..
Legal Action Next?
Michael and Aparna Udupa - the Jhatkaa member behind the online petition - maintain that there shouldn’t be a blanket ban on the felling of trees but that a dialogue be created where alternatives such as translocation can be considered.
“If the committees aren’t formed, the BBMP will be held in contempt of court, as they did in fact assure the High Court that they would follow through,” adds Michael. While the Jhatkaa members seem hopeful that the BBMP will act, Vinay Sreenivas, an activist and member of the Hasiru Usuru campaign, says that because the BBMP isn’t serious about monitoring the felling of trees, it’s difficult to say if these committees will ever be formed.
“The BBMP is moving towards setting up ward committees. So even if greening committees aren’t set up, issues related to axing trees should go through these municipality ward committees, which are statutory bodies, unlike greening committees,” says Sreenivas.
However, the issue with matters like this going through just a ward committee, as Michael points out, is that it won’t be multi-tiered. He stresses on the need for there to be two-tiered committees - with experts at the higher level, and citizen involvement via ward committees at a lower level.