MUMBAI: In a unique order, the Bombay high court has directed a builder to deposit Rs 14 lakh—Rs 20,000 for each tree—for the 70 trees he plans to cut on a plot of land in Khopoli to develop a residential project.
Jani Properties will also have to plant five trees for each tree it cuts to make way for the project. The order by a division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Burgess Colabawalla is to ensure the newly planted trees are cared for.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a local resident who had challenged the Tree Authority's sanction for the hacking down of 70 trees. Petitioner Manish Khavale claimed that the TA's condition which asking the developer to deposit Rs 1,000 per tree was illusory. "After depositing Rs 70,000, the developer may not plant new trees and maintain them and can afford to have the deposit forfeited," he told court. At this, the developer offered to increase the deposit amount.
The HC ordered the firm to submit a report to the Tree Authority within six months. The judges said an interest-free deposit of Rs 14 lakh will be made with the Khopoli Municipal Council for five years. "The Tree Authority committee shall, from time to time, carry out inspection of the trees planted and maintained and submit its report to the municipal council at least once a year," said the judges. After five years, the authority will submit a report to the KMC, based on which a decision will be taken if the money should be refunded to the builder.
The authority had granted the developer permission to cut 70 of the 110 trees on his property in July 2008. It asked the builder to plant five trees and deposit Rs 1,000 for each tree cut, with the KMC. Khavale filed the PIL claiming the permission to cut old trees were in violation of rules. The collector informed court that the trees were to be cut on a private property, not government land, and the sanction was proper. The HC gave its approval but after modifying the conditions.