The cutting edge
The next time you see anyone felling a tree, you can take the help of an act to save it.
What can a helpless bystander do when trees are illegally axed?
A tree lover’s manual should be the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, 1975.
This act, among other things, categorically defines what constitutes felling. It includes burning or cutting or in any way damaging a tree.
A tree is any perennial woody plant, whether in the seeding or sapling stage or fully grown stage, and includes shrubs whose branches spring from the ground level.
When can a tree be chopped?
- Even if the tree is in private premises, it cannot be hacked without prior permission of the Tree Officer. In Mumbai, the civic chief is the chairperson of the Tree Authority which governs all the activities implemented under the Act.
- Even government bodies require permission from the Tree Authority for any developmental purpose.
There is a time schedule too.
- On receiving an application, a tree officer has to personally inspect the tree sought to be chopped and submit a report to the Tree Authority within 30 days. t The officer has to give adequate public notice in local newspapers as well as by affixing a notice on a conspicuous part of the tree.
- The Tree Authority then decides within 60 days whether or not to permit the felling.
- But even after permission is given, the tree cannot be chopped for 15 days. t However, if the authority does not inform its decision within 60 days, the permission applied for shall be deemed to have been granted.
- As a citizen, you have the right to raise objections. It is not necessary to be residing in the same area where a tree is being hacked. For example, a Mumbai resident can take objection to a tree being felled in Nagpur or even Delhi provided the Union territory has a tree act.
1) When you see a notice for felling, you can write to both the Tree Authority and the local police station asking for the reason. Police officers are empowered by the act to take necessary steps for the preservation and protection of trees.
2) If you catch a person in the act of felling, you can ask for requisite legal papers in support of his action. If the person cannot produce the documents, you can complain to both the municipal authority and the police station. 3) If documents show that the municipal authority had failed to decide, a citizen can demand an explanation from the respective municipal council under the Right To Information Act, 2002. Till an explanation is forthcoming from the authorities, the tree cannot be felled.
- Every act of chopping at different points of time, whether it is the same tree or different trees, constitutes a separate offence. The penalty includes a minimum fine of Rs 1,000 and maximum of Rs 5,000 with imprisonment from a week to a year.
- Bye-law No. 162 of the Maharashtra Cooperative Housing Societies Model Bye- laws says: No member of the society shall destroy, deface or cut down any trees in the society’s compound. A violation may render the member concerned liable for action.
- There is another act—The Maharashtra Felling of Trees (Regulation) Act, 1964—that deals with protection and preservation of some select trees like teak, mango, mahua, sandal and tamarind including mangroves.