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Bombay High Court Issues Directions For Proper Functioning Of Tree Authority In Goa

Mustafa Plumber
21 July 2021 9:57 AM GMT
Bombay High Court Issues Directions For Proper Functioning Of Tree Authority In Goa
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Being "extremely distressed" by the fact that the Tree Authorities in both the districts of Goa have not functioned at all since about a decade, the Bombay High Court at Goa recently issued several directions for their proper functioning.

The said authorities were constituted under the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984.

A division bench of Justices MS Sonak and MS Jawalkar gave the direction while hearing a petition filed by NGO Living Heritage Foundation. The petitioners pointed out that Tree Authorities for the two districts of North and South Goa are defunct from the date of the enactment of the Trees Act (1984), or in any case, from November 2012, the date on which the two Tree Authorities came to be constituted.

Advocate General D. Pangam, conceded that the Tree Authorities in the State of Goa have not been functioning as they ought to have. He submitted that at least hereafter the Tree Authorities in the two districts will function and discharge the duties which they are required to discharge under the Trees Act.

Following which the court observed "This is not just some instance of dereliction of statutory duties but this is an instance that points to the scant regard which such authorities and their members have to the cause of the preservation of trees in the State of Goa."

It added "Though Article 51A(g) provides that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures, the two Tree Authorities in the State of Goa and its members who are the citizens of India have acted as if no such provisions exist in the Constitution of India or that the provisions of Trees Act and duties which Section 7 has cast upon them, either do not exist or were not meant to be acted upon."

The bench while disposing of the petition issued the following directions.

a) The Tree Authorities are directed to meet at least once in every three months as mandated by Section 4(1) of the Trees Act and to discharge the duties for which they are responsible in terms of Section 7 and other provisions of the Trees Act.

b) The Tree Authorities are directed to meet and consider the co-option of up to three representatives of Non-Official Organisations having special knowledge or practical experience in the preservation of trees in terms of Section 3(3) of the Trees Act. Such meeting to be held within two months from today and compliance report together with the decision as reflected in the minutes to be placed before this Court on or before 20.09.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

c) The Tree Authorities, consistent with the provisions of Section 7(b) of the Trees Act, are directed to carry out a census of the existing trees and obtaining, whenever considered necessary, declarations from all the owners or occupants about the number of trees in their lands. The Tree Authorities consider using modern technology such as RFID and geo-tagging for this purpose. This exercise to cover areas comprising the entire State of Goa except for Government forests under the control of the Forest Department, a forest or forest land notified under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 having regard to the provisions of Section 30 of the Trees Act. This exercise is to be completed within a maximum period of one year from today. The Member Secretaries of the two Tree Authorities to however file an initial status report in this Court on or before 20.09.2021 indicating the decisions for use of modern technology and the steps for commencement of the census after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

d) The Tree Authorities, consistent with the provisions of Section 7(c) of the Trees Act must specify standards regarding the number and kind of trees which each locality, type of land, and premises shall have and which shall be planted subject to a minimum of five trees per hectare in the case of rural areas. This exercise is to be completed within a maximum period of six months from today. The Member Secretaries of the two Tree Authorities to file a compliance report in this Court on or before 31.12.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

e) The Tree Authorities, consistent with the provisions of Section 7(e) of the Trees Act must take appropriate measures for planting and transplanting of trees necessitated by the construction of buildings, new roads or widening of existing roads, or replacement of trees which have failed to come up along roads or for safeguarding danger to life and property. A status report in this regard to be filed by the Member Secretaries in this Court on or before 31.12.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

f ) The Tree Authorities, consistent with the provisions of Section 7(g) of the Trees Act must take appropriate measures for planting and maintaining such number of trees as may be considered necessary according to the prescribed standards on roads, in public parks, and gardens and on the banks of rivers or lakes or seashores. The Member Secretaries of the two Tree Authorities to file a compliance report in this Court on or before 31.12.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

g) The Tree Authorities, consistent with the provisions of Section 7(i) of the Trees Act to undertake a critical study of the proposals of various Government Departments and private bodies for construction of buildings, roads, factories, irrigation works, laying out of electric, telephone, telegraphic and other transmission lines with regard to the protection of existing trees and planting of more trees, wherever possible. A status report in this regard to be filed by the Member Secretaries in this Court on or before 31.12.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

h) The Tree Authorities are hereby directed to comply with the obligations cast upon them by Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and to upload the information prescribed in the said Section on the website of the Forest Department and even otherwise make available such information in the public domain by other suitable means. The minutes of the meetings of the Tree Authorities and the decisions reflected therein must also be invariably uploaded on such websites and made available in the public domain. The obligations under Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 shall be complied with by the two Tree Authorities within a maximum period of six months from today. A status report in this regard to be filed by the two Member Secretaries in this Court on or before 20.09.2021 indicating the steps taken after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

i) The Tree Officers appointed under the Trees Act must dispose of the applications for felling of trees within 60 days as stipulated in Section 9(3) of the Trees Act by giving reasons for the grant or refusal of such permissions. Such decisions must be uploaded by the Tree Officers on the website of the Forest Department and the Tree Officers must consider, making such decisions effective at least 30 days from the date of such publication/uploading on the website. This direction will however not apply to removal of trees etc. which are in a ruinous state or likely to fall thereby endangering life and property i.e. situations governed by Section 12-A of the Trees Act.

j) The Tree Officers should, unless the Proviso to Section 10 of the Trees Act is being invoked, specify in the order granting permissions to fell trees the details of the kind of and location at which, trees are to be planted/replanted. This is in terms of Section 10 of the Trees Act. Such particulars should form a part of the order of the Tree Officers granting permissions to fell trees and further, such order, should be invariably uploaded on the website of the Forest Department and even otherwise made available in the public domain.

k) The State Government is now directed to constitute the "Tree Protection Fund" as mandated by Section 35-A of the Trees Act within a maximum period of six months from today. The officers referred to in Section 35-B shall take necessary measures for account and audit of this fund as prescribed. Compliance report to be filed by the Secretary (Forest) in this Court on or before 31.12.2021 after serving a copy of the same to the learned counsel for the petitioner.

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