PILs on Ajni Vann ‘premature,’ let Tree Authority decide first: HC

Nagpur: Terming the PILs filed by Save Ajni Vann activists as “premature”, the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court on Wednesday turned down the request of petitioners to stay felling of trees for the proposed Inter Modal Station (IMS) at Ajni.

The Court adjourned the hearing till the statutory process of hearing before the Tree Authority of Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) was on. At this stage, the petitions are premature, observed a division bench consisting of Justice Sunil Shukre and Justice Anil Kilor.

The court advised the petitioners to raise all issues including lack of authority to NMC’s Tree Authority, during the hearing. The High Court, while hearing two separate petitions, now tagged, also refused to grant any prospective stay to the decision of Tree Authority while adjourning the matter till the issue was adjudicated by the designated officer.

When the issue of environmental clearance was raised in one petition filed by Swachha Foundation, the High Court sought to know whether it was a notified forest. NHAI Counsel Anand Parchure pointed out that land under possession of Railways was lying unused for many years due to which many trees and shrubs had grown. The High Court then sought to know the basis of several pleadings and averments made by petitioner Ajay Tiwari and Shweta Burbure and Swachha Foundation, including claim about exemption from environmental clearance granted to NHAI and Ministry of Road Transport by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change.

When Adv Anilkumar, appearing for the petitioners, conceded that he had not annexed the communication, the High Court expressed displeasure noting that “it is a very serious issue and we cannot just go by pleadings in absence of any supporting documents.” When the petitioner claimed that recent amendment to Tree Act would take away this hearing from the purview of NMC since more than 200 trees needed to be cut and hence ought to be placed before the State Tree Authority, the High Court orally asked them to make this submission of the absence of jurisdiction and authority during the hearing before NMC’s Tree Authority during the proposed hearing.

The petitioner claimed that NHAI had proposed to fell 4,930 trees of ‘AjniVann’ for the IMS and more than 8,000 objections had been filed opposing such indiscriminate tree chopping for a project, which was not required in the middle of the city.

NMC informed the High Court that it would hear objections after processing them and a public hearing would be scheduled after which the petition might or might not survive. About exact details of species, the number of trees, and a number of trees to be translocated, the petitioners claimed that NHAI in its application had mentioned the number of trees along with details of species and stated that number had been disclosed by NMC in its public notice inviting objections and suggestions from citizens. Under Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975, NMC is dutybound to protect the trees, the petitioners contended.