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Contractor skipped tree-felling approvals 

Last Updated : 15 December 2022, 19:16 IST
Last Updated : 15 December 2022, 19:16 IST
Last Updated : 15 December 2022, 19:16 IST
Last Updated : 15 December 2022, 19:16 IST

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A case has been booked against a contractor who illegally felled 12 trees for a public road widening project on Kerekodi Main Road. The road leads to RR Nagar, and is near the Hosakerehalli lake.

Sareena Sikkaligar, deputy conservator of forests (DCF), BBMP, told Metrolife the road widening is a BBMP project but the contractor “acted on his own” and axed the trees because he thought approvals would “take time”.

Anyone who wants to cut a tree in Bengaluru has to seek permission and file an application with the DCF, BBMP. This is followed by a visit by the regional forest officer (RFO), a review report, and a site inspection by the DCF.

“If the trees are weak or pose a danger to the public, I can give permission. In other cases, we refer the application to the (High Court-monitored) Tree Expert Committee and this process can take a minimum of a month,” she says.

The committee visits the spot to see and decide which of the trees can be retained, translocated, or cut down. Meanwhile, a notice is to be issued in the media inviting objections from
the public.

‘Double violation’

Environment Support Group (ESG) has been advancing community oversight over preserving city’s greenery and open spaces. It has worked on PILs to ensure felling of even one tree is considered a critical decision. It has opposed the prevailing regulation under Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976 that public involvement in decisions is needed only where more than 50 trees are to be felled. According to its founder-trustee Leo Saldanha, the Hosakerehalli case is not only a violation of the Tree Act but also of High Court-prescribed procedure as in WP 7288/2011 (a suo moto PIL of the Karnataka High Court).

“In the 2014 final order of this PIL, the High Court gave a clear order for regreening the city. But this has been systematically violated since. Tree felling orders are being issued with impunity by the highest authorities and quite unfortunately the forest department is complicit in these decisions,” he says.

What happened

People living around the tree-felling site say they tried to complain, but it took them at least a week to get the authorities to intervene.

When Rachna R, who stays two streets away, saw the JCBs at work, she assumed it was something to do with lake cleaning. But on closer look, she found markings on the trees. Over four days and three visits to the site, and on a call with a BBMP official, she heard many versions. When DH visited the spot on Tuesday, workers said they were building a “retainer wall” for the bund.

“On the fourth day, when I asked the workers to show permission papers, a man handed over a phone to me. He said ‘Sir’ wants to know who is complicating the situation, and started clicking my photos. I freaked out, returned the phone, and left,” says Rachna, who works as a campaigner for environmental startup Jhatkaa, which is running an online campaign for the rejuvenation of the Hosakerehalli lake.

Sensing something was “amiss”, Rachna asked her friend Ravi Narayanan, who lives near Hosakerehalli Cross Road, to step in. “I called up a person connected with the project and asked if they have the necessary permissions. He said ‘yes’ and told me I was among 5% of the public against development and asked me how many trees I had planted in my life,” Ravi, a graphic designer, says.

He claims getting through to the ACF (assistant conservator of forests) over the phone took five days, after which, he called the BBMP control room and a forest official rushed to the spot.

The trees they lost were big and old. The loss is “personal” for Rachna: “Every full moon night, I would stop
by these trees and admire the moon looming over them.”

21 FIRs filed

Sareena Sikkaligar has filed 21 FIRs related to illegal tree felling since she joined office as DCF, BBMP, recently.

“Only the Hosakerehalli case has been a BBMP project. In the rest, citizens tried to cut trees at night. Since neighbours informed us, we were able to intervene and save the trees. We have warned them and imposed a fine of more than Rs 10,000 in one case,” she says.

The penalty and jail term depend on the species and the site. Trees are classified as government-owned (like sandalwood), commercial (like coconut) and public.

She receives about 100 tree-felling requests a day, a majority for “trivial reasons”, from getting rid of beehives to excessive shedding of flowers and leaves, and branches breaching people’s homes.

“So far, I have considered applications for metro-related and government projects, and if the trees pose a danger to the public,” she says.

Call to report tree felling

RFO numbers listed on bbmp.gov.in, BBMP control room (080 2222 1188), DCF, BBMP (94806 83047).

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Published 15 December 2022, 19:03 IST

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