Published On : Sat, Jun 12th, 2021

Environmentalists hail State Govt move to amend Urban Tree Act

Developers red flag the decision stating various projects are likely to be affected

Nagpur: Environmentalists have hailed the decision of the State Government to amend Maharashtra (Urban Area) Protection and Prevention of Trees Act, 1975 for better protection and preservation of trees. However, those in the construction and infrastructural development sector have raised concerns over various projects that are likely to be affected. The National Highways Authorityof India (NHAI) officials stated that there was still no clarity on certain issues.

Though many activists claim it a revolutionary decision by the government, some said that the new amendments would not help in environmental conservation. The amendment to the Act was proposed on June 9 by the Environment and Climate Change Department, Government of Maharashtra led by Minister Aaditya Thackeray to the Maharashtra Cabinet.

The proposal for amendment, along with permission for request to issue an ordinance, was approved by the Cabinet on June 10. The Cabinet approved the concept of “heritage trees”. A tree with an estimated age of 50 years or more shall be defined as a heritage tree. It may belong to specific species, which will be notified from time to time. Such trees will get special protection. If a 52-year-old tree is to be felled, then the party felling the tree will have to plant 52 trees in compensation, with each being at least 6-8 ft in height at the time of planting. Such plantations can be carried out either in the same plot or a common amenity plot.

The Cabinet also okayed the formation of the Maharashtra Tree Authority, which will take all decisions regarding protection of trees.The tree authority will have responsibility related to protection and conservation of trees, including “heritage trees”. Mohan Lalji, a veteran environmentalist said, “Trees are not just the environment. If they are talking about the environment then they should think about protection and preservation of the ecosystem and biodiversity also. “Community participation is equally important and the government should include communities in environment conservation activities in urban areas which is the need of the hour,” said Lalji.

Quoting the ‘Ajni Vann’ issue, Lalji said, “Before taking decision on implementation of a massive project like IMS in Nagpur, the government must include citizens also in its planning and work as per their demands.”

Kaustav Chatterjee, Founder, Green Vigil Foundation said,“The amendments in the Urban Tree Act are revolutionary and a strong step towards conservation of green cover, especially heritage trees. However, it will be very difficult to implement.We have seen how compensatory plantation in ratio 1:5 have failed in Nagpur as hardly anyone went to NMC to get back deposited money against permitted tree felling. Thus, expecting a common citizen to plant 50 saplings of 6 to 8 feet against felling of a tree of 50 year is highly optimistic.” Chatterjee called for clear-cut guidelines to remove any ambiguity. “Assessing the age of the tree needs technical expertise, which may lead to further conflicts between parties. Hence, clear-cut guidelines need to be in place,” he said.

Suresh Chopane, Member, Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) said, “The Act will definitely help to conserve trees in the State. Now, the State Tree Authority will give permission to cut a tree, which is a bold decision by the government.” Chopane added, “The Government must now think about proper utilisation of tree compensatory funds in protection and conservation of environment.” Talking about translocation, Chopane said, “Government should purchase machinery for translocation of trees or help the civic bodies in purchasing the machinery. It will reduce the expense of the civic body.”

According to Jaydeep Das, former Honorary Wildlife Warden and nature activist said, “Urban forest is now reducing. This type of amendment will definitely help to slow down the pace of environmental exploitation.” “The new improvements in the Tree Act will definitely help to save the ‘Ajni Vann’ in coming days,” Das stated.

The main amendments to the Act

· Every tree above 50 years of age is a “Heritage Tree’.

· Compensatory plantation on a ratio of 1:50 (which was earlier 1:5)

· Proposal for felling of more than 200 trees of age 5 years or more to be referred to State Tree Authority.

· Tree census every 5 years mandatory.

· Proposal of transplantation of trees in the Tree Act.

· Transplantation as per expert guidance only.

· Compensatory plantation essential after carrying out transplantation.