The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday warned of taking appropriate action against the Tree authority/officers if it does not commence tree census in Bengaluru by October 10.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Mohammad Nawaz while hearing a petition filed by D T Devare said "If the census is not commenced then appropriate action would be taken. The expert committee constituted by the state government should submit a report on the next date on the process it is going to adopt for functioning."
It also directed the state and BBMP to provide all necessary support to the expert committee and provide tree scanners, as required.
As per a previous order the state government has constituted an expert committee headed by an IAS officer. The role of the committee is to examine whether trees which are proposed to be felled could be saved by adopting any method. Only after exhausting all methods if it is found that it is impossible to save a tree only then it shall be permissible to cut the trees.
Counsel for Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike informed the court that budgetary provisions are made for the tree census. However, no correct details were forthcoming on when the census would begin. Advocate Pradeep Nayak appearing for the petitioner pointed out that a member of the expert committee was not qualified as per rank to have been appointed. To which the court said "It would consider the issue raised at a latter stage."
The court has earlier directed the Tree Authority, constituted under the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 and Tree Rules, to commence a tree census in the city of Bengaluru. The census will be done for the first time, in 43 years.
The bench has earlier observed "The census has not been carried out for the last 43 years under the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 and Tree Rules, even though the law clearly mandated the same." BBMP is said to be in talks with Institute of Wood Science and Technology to conduct tree census and Rs 2 crore has been earmarked for this purpose in its budget, for year 2019-20.
The bench has also restrained the tree officer of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) from allowing felling of more than 50 trees for public projects without holding inquiry as per provisions of the Act.
Devare in his petition relies on a study which shows that the green cover of Bengaluru has been reduced by a drastic 78%, evidencing beyond doubt that the very object of the Tree Act is being defeated. It has also been studied that while on an average, there must be eight trees per person to offset human respiratory carbon and have adequate oxygen, presently in Bengaluru, there is just one tree for every seven persons – i.e. less than 1.8% of the optimum number of trees.
The petition states the derogation of the Tree Act and Rules by the respondents--State Government, Karnataka forest Department, Bangalore Urban District Tree Authority, and the deleterious impact of such derogation on tree cover on the city of Bengaluru is causing greater pollution and rising temperatures in the city, deteriorating the quality of life of its residents and also eroding the environment and Air of the city. These effects are a clear violation of the fundamental right to life of the citizens of Bengaluru.