A tree lover’s manual should be the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, 1975 (as amended on 03.11.2006).
What to do if a tree is being felled, cut, trimmed or being murdered in Mumbai, Maharashtra
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 offense. The penalty includes a minimum fine of Rs 1,000 and maximum of Rs 5,000 with imprisonment from a week to a year.
Maharashtra Cooperative Housing Societies Model Bye – laws: Bye-law No. 162 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.
If the tree has fallen itself:
Chapter V of the MPTA:
Restriction on Felling of Trees and Liability for Planting and
Reservations of Trees.
(1) What if a tree has fallen due to natural forces?
If a tree falls on a property due to natural causes (rain, fire, lightening, wind, earthquake), the Tree Officer, on the basis of an inquiry and after giving reasonable opportunity to the owner/occupier of that property, may then by an order require the owner/occupier to replace the fallen tree of the same or similar species on the same or another suitable site.
(2) What is the Time limit of such order issued by the Tree Authority? Any order received by the owner/occupier should be complied with, within 90 days of the receipt of the order.
Next time you see anyone felling / cutting / trimming a tree, you can take the help of an act to save the tree.
Tree cutting is a non cognizable offence. Becomes cognizable only after obtaining permission from M.M.Court U/s. 155 (2). This application for registering a case / FIR can be made by the Tree Officer / Police Officer / any individual citizen.
Step 1: 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 Tree & Garden Department of MCGM (BMC) of your Ward and the local police station.
Step 2: Dial 100 and lodge a complaint about unauthorized tree cutting.
Step 3: Take photographs of the persons and the tree cutting activity.
Step 4: Simultaneously lodge complaints on police website http://mumbaipolice.maharashtra.gov.in/index.asp and on MCGM Website http://mcgm.gov.in/ and preserve the complaint numbers for follow ups till your grievance is redressed.
Step 5: Visit the local Police Station. Probably the police will register only NC (non cognizable) offence and may ask you to approach M.M.Court (Metropolitan Magistrate Court of MCGM) with the complaint. Be firm and ask the Police themselves to approach M.M.Court to obtain permission to file FIR on the culprits as a tree is state / national property even if it is on a private land.
Step 6: Contact various media with documentary evidence of your complaint.
Step 7: Contact concerned ministries with your complaints with evidence
My own recent experience on unauthorized tree cutting :
I am RTI & Housing Societies Activist, aged 67 years, and an elected Secretary of Andheri Panchvati CHS Ltd., C.D.Barfiwala Marg, Juhu Lane, Andheri (West), Mumbai – 400 058. The society is being managed by an Administrator Shri Chandrakant L.Barge, appointed by the Deputy Registrar of Co-operative Societies, K West Ward, who has not handed over charge of the society till date to me and my elected Managing Committee declared on 02.12.2012.
In response to my complaints of un authorised cutting of thick, healthy and green branches of two huge appx. 40 feet tall Ashoka Trees by the Administrator in my society, I had to follow up with letters, emails, RTI applications, telephone calls, and above all, my personal visits to Tree & Garden Department of MCGM as well as local Police Station for at least 25 to 30 times.
My original complaint about unauthorized tree cutting was lodged on 28.09.2013 with Juhu Police Station and MCGM, K – West Ward. On dialing police control room no 100, local police arrived exactly within 7 minutes. Un authorised cutting of the tree was stopped and the culprit Administrator was taken to Juhu Police Station for further action. I had also accompanied them as witness. The officer on duty discussed something with the culprit and asked me to leave as my presence was not required by him. When I visited the police station again after about two hours to verify the action taken, I was shocked to learn that the culprit was allowed to go without any interrogation or making statements. I was told that no case could be made of the incidence. (All the names of concerned persons are available on request.)
Due to my continuous follow with to Juhu Police Station, Non Cognizable offence was registered only on 24.10.2013 U/s. 8 R/w 21 of Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act, 1975 (as amended on 03.11.2006).
I was being tossed like a football from one office to another by both the departments between 28.09.2013 and 26.06.2014. At last to my good luck, officers concerned for the football game at Juhu Police Station got transferred in April / May, 2014 and more dedicated and loyal officers came in. They assured me and promised me of suitable necessary action as early as possible.
They indeed worked sincerely on my complaint and as a result, at last FIR was registered on the accused Administrator on 26.06.2014 after obtaining permission U/s. 155 (2) from the M.M.Court No.39 by Juhu Police Station. The culprit is not arrested till now. I may have to buy more pairs of shoes.
If you do not follow up with perseverance, your complaint is likely to go to cold storage or disappear. You must follow up vigorously with both MCGM and Police departments. In spite of being an activist, it has taken me about nine months, besides spending energy and money on various visits and documentations just to get one lawful FIR registered. Arrest is awaited since 26.06.2014 till now i.e. 7 am on 02.07.2014.
I am extremely thankful in advance of arrest to the present Senior Inspector of Police Shri Abhay Shashtry who has just taken charge at Juhu Police Station, PI Shri Satpute, API Shri Ram Pote and others all of Juhu Police Station and the loving, ever willing to help ACP of Zone IX Shri D.O.Jadhav at Santacruz.
It’s the corrupt who corrupts the system.
J.B.Patel – Jeby
Housing Societies’ Activist
What to do if one is felling, cutting, trimming a tree in Mumbai, Maharashtra