#VinitasPune: The Tree Felling Trauma in Pune

Pune Trees
Image used for representation only

Like the proverbial saying – you give them an inch and they take a mile –
citizens of Pune often complain of indiscriminate action by the PMC when it comes to tree felling.

Early this week, the Delhi High Court gave Delhites their ‘Chipko Moment’ as it stalled
the immediate felling of 17,000 trees for residential construction of central government
employees in South Delhi.

Pune has been in the forefront of such campaigns, since decades, with mixed results. Recently, part of the Empress Garden was slated for residential government accommodation but that was successfully stalled. The felling of Banyan trees on Ganeshkhind Road and Pune-Satara Highway for road-widening, where thousands of these stalwart trees were uprooted over two decades back, are still heart-wrenching memories, for those who have witnessed the grand, green canopy on these roadsides. Recently, 11 large trees were felled on Ganeshkhind Road near Raj Bhavan for the purpose of BRTS route by the PMC, raising strong protests by citizens. After which, the remaining trees have been prevented from the massacre.

Since the last three to four decades, the builder lobby has been accused of massive
tree felling for residential and commercial projects in Pune. Even the hill tops and hill
slopes have not been spared in some cases. The Green Pune Movement led by
Vandana Chavan, Satish Khot and Aneeta Benninger, bringing together several social
forums and individuals together, has been one of the most remarkable and historic
campaigns of Pune. In fact, several citizen activists have been fighting this menace,
prominent of them being Vinod Jain. He has sought legal intervention or indiscriminate
permissions being given by the PMC and has met with green success.

Presently, hundreds of citizens are undertaking an admirable campaign of saving the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary on the banks of the Mula-Mutha River near Bund Garden. They are on high alert for tree felling that is being surreptitiously carried out; they are cleaning up the garbage that has been dumped over the years and holding Bird-Watching sessions during the weekends.

Their WhatsApp group is very active and effuses the passion for saving this natural bird sanctuary. They are constantly in touch with the municipal authorities and have become one of the most effective citizen groups in the city. Kudos to them!

Photo: Sanket Wankhede for Pune365

Pune is also witnessing tree felling in housing societies and neighbourhoods which has
been rattling the residents, no end. This is established by the fact that citizens from
various parts of the city lodge complaints with the Garden Department of the Pune
Municipal Corporation (PMC) practically every day but are often not satisfied with the
response from it. I am often kept in the loop as I was once a part of Pune Tree Watch,
which under social activist Tasneem Balasinorwala, who formed this formidable NGO
group, worked along with PMC for inspection of trees that were listed to be felled and
also addressed individual citizen complaints. Tasneem has migrated abroad, after which
the PTW has been virtually disbanded.

Complaints of tree felling fall into two categories:

  • One, is requesting the Garden Department to fell a tree which might be unsafe.
  • Two, is trimming the branches of the tree. It is in the latter cases, that an everyday controversy brews.

The permission is given for felling of the branches but the entire tree is uprooted; the felling of the branches is suddenly undertaken by the PMC without giving notice; too many of the branches are trimmed off over and above what has been requested by the housing society / resident of a bungalow; neighbours trimming off branches of trees that encroach in their compound in vengeance and; no unanimity within the members of the housing society on the number of tree branches/trees to be cut.

The main reason for this distress is the haphazard method of the PMC in going about the tree felling applications/permissions:

  • Firstly, there is no transparency. Many residents complain that when the PMC staff comes to fell trees, they refuse to show them the official order which gives them the sanction for this action.
  • Secondly, the PMC, does not follow the norms of the process of final order of tree felling as per the Maharashtra Tree Act. How many of us know that it is mandatory for the PMC to put a cross sign on the trees that are to be felled (As per applications to the PMC by citizens) so that citizens can give their objections within 15 days. Secondly, applicants complain that there is no response, most of the times, from the Garden Department of the PMC, to their applications.
  • Thirdly, the PMC website has provided the mobile numbers of officials working in the Garden Department but they do not pick their phones, many a time. Fourthly, Pune which has been titled a `Smart City’ is not smart enough on its PMC website to provide a citizen-friendly guide for applying for or stalling tree felling and taking them through until the logical end of their application or complaint.

In the absence of serious commitment by the PMC, which through its garden department and the Tree Authority, is mandated to save as many trees as possible in its jurisdiction, the citizens are left high and dry and completely helpless. Can the PMC please be more proactive, transparent and helpful in saving trees, for which citizens of Pune are enthusiastic about? In this era of quick communication, technology and
transparency, how about a collaborative effort between PMC and Puneites, for which
the former must take the lead?

Readers may go through the following links for contact nos of PMC officials, how to
apply and know about the Maharashtra Tree Act:

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh