Employing the Mumbai metro’s playbook, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) felled a series of trees along Bannerghatta Road after nightfall on Tuesday, a full 10 hours before the High Court considered a petition opposing the move.
The court subsequently issued a stay order on Wednesday at noon, stopping the cutting of trees. During the proceedings, the senior counsel appearing for the BMRCL informed the court that substantial work for cutting and relocation of trees has been completed.
The incident comes nine days after activists moved the high court against a Bengaluru Bruhat Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) order on May 21 to the BMRCL to cut down 165 trees along the upcoming Gottigere-Nagawara line of Phase 2 (Reach 6). The objection also contested the grounds on which the permission had been given.
However, the court determined that the order issued by the BBMP tree officer showed non-application of mind. It also ordered that “it will be the responsibility of the tree officer to ensure that no further felling or translocation of trees is done based on the May 21 order.”
The felling of the trees taking place near the fire station on Bannerghatta Road came to light on Tuesday night after reports from activists proliferated on social media.
Activist Arun Prasad, who filmed the tree cutting at the Jayanagar police station by a contractor working on behalf of the BMRCL, said the incident had left him stunned and enraged.
"I just happened to be driving along Bannerghatta Road when I heard the whir of chainsaws. There was a compound wall. After I crossed over it, I found a mass of workers, many without proper safety equipment, tearing down trees,” Prasad said.
"What was the need for their haste to cut down these trees, if not to remove them before the HC passed judgement on the matter? This is a complete flouting of the law,” he added.
A BMRCL spokesperson told DH the tree cutting was being carried out as per the BBMP order. The order had become active on June 5. However, according to the objection filed by Dattatreya T Devare of Bangalore Environment Trust, "BMRCL and BBMP have been officially informed not to initiate any feeling till the hearing takes place" on Wednesday.
Prasad, who has now complained with the BBMP Deputy Conservator of Forests H S Ranganathaswamy, pointed out the tree cutting was not only premature but also violated several regulations and laws.
"For one, tree cutting is supposed to happen under the supervision of police and a tree officer from the BBMP. But none were on-site on Tuesday night. Second, only essential activists are permitted after curfew hours. Is tree cutting an essential service?" he asked. When asked about why the cutting was taking place at night and why there was no BBMP or police supervision of the activity, the BMRCL said it had no information about this and would look into the matter.