Times of India: Nagpur: Thursday, May 18, 2017.
In over two years, not a single person has been convicted for illegally felling trees in the city. The garden department of Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) has filed cases against only 14 people in this period.
This was revealed in the reply to a RTI query filed by Abhay Kolarkar. As per the reply by NMC's garden department, 91 individuals and organizations were granted permission to fell trees from January 1, 2015, to March 3, 2017. A total of 4,137 trees were felled with NMC's permission in this manner.
When granting sanction to fell trees, NMC charges around Rs5,500 as deposit for one tree. According to the rules, compensatory plantation has to be carried out as per 1:5 ratio. "Those felling trees have to plant five trees against each tree felled. To get back the deposit, they have to submit photographic evidence at the time of plantation as well as the saplings' growth after three years," a garden department official said.
Against the 91 permissions to fell trees in around two years, the deposit amount NMC received was Rs1.76 crore. The reply further states that total deposit lying in NMC's account is Rs3.05 crore. "The huge amount shows that over the years most of the people have not carried out compensatory plantations," said environmentalist Kaustav Chatterjee, founder of NGO Green Vigil Foundation.
NMC staffers agreed that in the last five-six years, very few people have diligently completed compensatory plantation and asked NMC for refund of their deposit. "The deposit left with NMC is used for activities like plantation drives," they said.
While the RTI reply states that 23 cases of illegal tree felling have been filed in the court by NMC in the last 10 years, green activists described these figures as "not even one-tenth of the actual cases". NMC officials said the procedure for filing a case takes time and many cases are in the process of being filed.
On zero conviction and penalty, green activist Shrikant Deshpande said that cases of illegal tree felling are not pursued properly in the court. "NMC does not take a strong stand legally. Because of lack of penalty, there is no fear of punishment among people, and illegal tree felling is becoming rampant," he said, adding that in most cases, garden department gives a notice and does not follow up with a probe or action.
The RTI reply also states that in the last two years, NMC rejected 19 applications for tree felling, thus saving 31 trees. "The number of rejected applications is very low as compared to the 91 which were approved. This shows that more trees are being felled legally, while those guilty of illegally felling trees are also going scot-free," Chatterjee said.