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   Home >> Library index >> Trees >> Tree Authority is loaded but refuses to plant funds 

Tree Authority is loaded but refuses to plant funds 
By Anjali Joseph/TNN 

Mumbai: What’s rolling in money but reluctant to spend it? It’s not a trick question: the answer is the city’s Tree Authority, a body created in 1976 to protect trees in Mumbai. 
The Tree Authority rejoices in a massive annual budget—this year, Rs 21.5 crore—but, every year, the majority of the amount goes unspent. Last year, for example, the budget was over Rs 14 crore. Of this, Rs 10 crore—more than 70%—went unspent. 
At a time when the city’s green cover is more under attack from infrastructure and development projects than ever before, environmentalists and activists are questioning why the Tree Authority continues to hold its purse strings quite so tightly. “Why doesn’t the Tree Authority use its budget, instead of letting crores of surplus funds accumulate?’’ asks the Bombay Natural History Society’s Isaac Kehimkar. 
The Rs 36.6 crore sitting in the Tree Authority’s books as at April last year (by now it will have swelled to include the last year’s surplus) could have been put to good use, say activists. The Tree Authority has had a poor grasp of the amount of trees being cut in the city. Take the example of the MMRDA’s road development projects, for which in the last 12 months, the Tree Authority issued a total of 3,503 permissions to cut trees. Despite this, on just one project—the Eastern Express Highway—over 12,000 trees were cut down. 
Similarly, transplantation that was supposed to have been carried out by developers has never been monitored to ensure that the trees in question survived shifting. The Tree Authority tends to say that it has too few permanent staff—just 12 for the whole of 437 sq km of the city—to monitor the situation. But activist Anahita Pundole objects, “They have a huge budget, why don’t they spend it? If they need more staff why don’t they hire them?’’ The authority is habitually ineffectual in dealing with offenders, she adds. “The Tree Authority may get as far as filing a police complaint when a member of the public makes a written complaint, but what action is taken against those who carry out repeated illegal hacking of trees?’’ 
In defence, Garden Department and Tree Authority superintendent P A Naringrekar says a proposal for 42 new staff that has been awaiting final sanction since 2002 is now close to being approved. 
Activists say the problem is that the municipal corporation, which administers the Tree Authority, is reluctant to dish out the funds that on paper have been allocated to it. The generous funding for the Tree Authority comes from two sources. One is directly from taxpayers: 0.5% of the rateable value of any property goes to the Tree Authority as a special tree cess. And the BMC annually allocates 0.5% of its budget to the authority. 
Former Tree Authority member Nandkumar Naik says it’s a catch-22: “The BMC tries not to hand over the money, then it claims that since the Tree Authority isn’t spending it, it doesn’t need it’’. 
Ironically, many activists say that by spending just a small fraction of what’s sitting in the Tree Authority’s coffers, a lot more could be done to save the city’s greenery. Kehimkar says, “The police often discourage people who try to make a complaint about illegal tree cutting. Why doesn’t the Tree Authority spend some of its money on educating its own officers as well as the police force?’’ 


The five-yearly census of the city’s trees is due to begin after the monsoon this year. The last census took place in 1998, when it recorded that there were 5,00,024 trees in Mumbai (excluding those in the National Park at Borivli). A Tree Authority source says the authority plans to propose an amendment to the Maharashtra Preservation of Trees Act (1975), so that the census need be carried out only once every 10 years. Given the current rate of development, that prospect is alarming, say tree lovers. “The Tree Authority always needs pushing when it comes to beginning the census,’’ says Naik. “The last census was in 1998 so the next one should have taken place in 2003,’’ he adds. Kehimkar says, “The Tree Authority should carry out the census at least every two years to keep the pressure on to maintain tree cover. Dust, noise and air pollution is increasing in the city and trees do the best job of absorbing all that’’ 


- Tree Authority Budget allocation for 2005-06: Rs 21.5 crore 
- Maintenance of existing trees: 59% (of budget) 
- Plantation of new trees: 9% 
- Development of nurseries: 9% 
- Regulating felling of trees: 5%
- Carrying out the five-yearly census of trees: 3% 
- Unused funds in the authority’s account on April 2004: Rs 36.6 crore