BBMP Council and BBMP’s Forest Cell are at loggerheads once again. Apparent reason: Some trees were cut in Jayanagar 3rd and 4th blocks recently - allegedly to favour advertisers by improving the visibility of hoardings. And the Councillors think that Forest Cell chief is responsible for this.

According to a report from The Hindu, the allegations were made by ruling party leader N Nagaraju, in the council meeting on September 29, 2013. BBMP Commissioner M Lakshminarayan had said show-cause notice would be served to the officials concerned.

However, Brijesh Kumar, Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of the Forest Cell says that the power to decide on the cutting of trees vests with Tree Officers, not the Forest Cell Chief. Forest Cell only ensures that the Tree Officers follow the provisions and norms of Karnataka Trees Preservation Act 1976 (KTPA). Tree Authority, comprising BBMP Mayor and Commissioner has authority over Tree Officers, not the Forest Cell.

This point had also been reported by Citizen Matters earlier. Read it: Whom should I complain to, when a tree is felled

Trees cut in Jayanagar 3rd block. Photo courtesy: BBMP PRO

‘Tree Officers are supreme, not anyone else’

Brijesh Kumar points that the trees in the city are governed by Karnataka Trees Preservation Act 1976 (KTPA). This act mandates the appointment of two Tree Officers - namely Assistant Conservator of Forest North and South. These officials are expected to allow or disallow felling of trees in accordance in provision of KTPA.

Kumar says, “In my opinion, this is judicial power vested on them to decide whether to cut a tree or not. The Deputy Conservator of Forest, or the CCF - that is me, or even the Commissioner doesn’t have any direct jurisdiction over Tree Officer.”

The only authority which has jurisdiction over decision of Tree Officer is Tree Authority, pointed Kumar. The Tree Authority consists of Mayor, Commissioner, Joint Director of Horticulture and two other nominated members.Only this authority has jurisdiction to pass orders on the decision of Tree Officers.

Kumar says that his duty is to see that the Tree Officer has followed all the procedures as per laid out norms in the KTPA, but he can not decide whether the cutting of the tree is required or not - it is the Tree Authority that has to decide this.

“Having said this, I don’t deny that Tree Officer may have been wrong. Let an enquiry be done. Facts will emerge and a competent forum will take decision as far as Tree Officer’s decision is concerned,” says Kumar.

Tree Officer is nominated by Principal Chief Conservator of Forest. Only two are nominated for entire BBMP area.

No amendment to law, no change in the system

"Even I am worried when complaints come and some of them appear to be true,” says Kumar. However, the matter is also in High Court.

In relation to WP no. 7107/2008, the High Court court on November 20th 2012 observed that the appellate authority should be reconstituted and no member of BBMP shall be a part of the authority. In the previous order dated October 10, 2012, the HC had observed that Mayor and Commissioner being part of the Tree Authority is an 'anathema' in law, as they would be judging their own causes. The case has been adjourned indefinitely, for a long term, as the amending of KTPA needs time.

However the KTPA has not been amended accordingly. The mayor and commissioner continue to be a part of the Tree Authority. Since amendments are required in law, the Respondent asked for slightly longer adjournment. If the law is amended, BBMP is going to lose its power to have a say in the cutting of trees.

No funds for online tree felling management system

On the other hand, to address the appeals in case of felling of trees, Forest Cell proposed online tree felling management system. “We have travelled half-way. BBMP is yet to release the funds for the development of the system. The entire design and all other things are finalised. Since we are not able to pay money, the process is delayed.” However, he is also aware of the BBMP’s financial crunch.

Kumar believes that the online system will be an answer to all the problems relating to felling of trees. Last year, Forest Cell was allotted a sum of Rs.32 crore but the money released was only 11 crore. Kumar remarks that he doesn’t see any fundamental change this year too. See:BBMP to take tree felling management online

‘Commissioner did not approve plantation proposals’

Mayor B S Sathyanarayana had also criticised the Forest Cell, by saying that despite the CCF drawing 1 lakh per month as salary, there is no achievement in the plantation programmes in the city.

Trees cut in Jayanagar 3rd block. Photo courtesy: BBMP PRO

Brijesh Kumar presents all the documents that show his Department’s attempt to plant saplings. The papers require BBMP Commissioner’s nod. Delay in approval has kept his hands tied up, explains Brijesh Kumar.

Brijesh Kumar is confident his department has done all that it could. Major controversy is why saplings have not been planted. But Kumar says it is not the sole responsibility of his department, and Commissioner too has his own stake in it. He presents a sheet of paper that explains how proposals are drafted and sent to the Commissioner for plantation of seedlings and for assigning job codes.

The proposal dated May 10, 2013 points clearly that planting is a seasonal work and must be completed in time, by the onset of monsoon (June). This proposes maintenance of order plantation (done in 2011-12), maintenance of seedlings in nursery, tree canopy management, fresh plantation and tree guards (Bamboo). All these activities were expected to cost Rs 1517.96 lakhs.

He points at two files. “On all of these dates (May 10, 2013 and July 9, 2013, July 19, 2013) I have been (asking for) the approval to go ahead.” On June 21, 2013, Kumar wrote to Commissioner stating that, the activities should have been at the peak on that date. He recommended not carrying out any plantation post-September.

"I sent five letters asking permission for planting saplings. But the Commissioner writes - “Let it be placed before standing committee.” I kept asking, they kept dodging the matter. Finally I decided that I don’t have authority to go on my own so I stopped and didn’t do anything,” explains Brijesh Kumar.

BBMP’s effort yet to be seen

“The Forest officials claim they have planted 25,000 saplings last month. Where have these saplings been planted? The BBMP is spending Rs 10 lakh a month on the department. Instead of protecting the green cover in the city, the department is destroying it,” pointed Nagraj in the council meeting, changing the focus to another aspect. He had demanded criminal proceedings against the BBMP Forest Department officials.

Brijesh Kumar says that BBMP’s plantation efforts are yet to be seen. “Whatever trees existing today in the city are planted by State Forest Department in 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and not BBMP.”

It takes time for seedlings to grow into big trees. “BBMP’s effort will be seen only after a few years. Let 10 years pass. From 2015 or 2016 onwards, if green cover increases or decreases, it should be attributed to BBMP,” says Brijesh Kumar.

Around one to two lakh saplings are planted every year. Most of these saplings are ornamental. Their species range from Honge, gooseberries, drumstick, custard apple, Ramphal (a variety of custard apple), besides flowering trees such as Tabebuia, tecoma, Lagerstroemia and bauhinia etc.

Core areas will not be green anymore

Most saplings are planted on the outskirts of the city, not core areas, as core areas are densely populated and do not leave enough space for plantation.

Many saplings have been planted in the newly expanding areas like Mahadevapura, Bommanahalli, RR Nagar and Yelahanka. Most of the trees are planted on roads while some are also planted inside institution premises and army areas.

‘Earning one lakh isn’t my mistake!’

Each time BBMP points out the Forest Cell’s inactiveness, no one forgets to mention Brijesh Kumar’s salary - which is Rs 1 Lakh per month.

When we mention this, Brijesh Kumar laughs. “Yes, my salary is a lakh rupees, but that’s not my mistake. I can only assure that my works will be commensurate with the level of salary I get when administration runs smoothly,” he says.

He doesn’t want more powers. He believes whatever powers he has now are enough. He declares that he and his team are ready to be go back to the Forest Department if required.

Since the begining BBMP and Brijesh Kumar have not been able to gel well. He was transferred back to the Forest Department in last October by the BBMP, as a standing committee ‘reported’ that his post was unnecessary. This decision, however, was stayed by the Urban Development Department, and Brijesh Kumar continued in his post. To read about this, click here: BBMP boots out reformist IFS officer