Pune : Citizens raise strong objections to massive tree felling for PMC’s riverfront beautification project

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At the public hearing before the Pune Municipal Corporation’s Tree Authority on May 8, 2023, citizens raised their firm and strong oppositions to the tree felling planned by the Pune Municipal Corporation for the River Rejuvenation Project. The citizens demanded that the proposal for tree cutting, uprooting and transplantation of the trees in the riparian zones of Mula, and Mula Mutha rivers be entirely scrapped.

The proposed tree uprooting was announced in the newspaper on March 18, 2023, after which citizens rushed to obtain dockets containing exact information of trees to be cut and/or transplanted. The analysis of the dockets containing information about tree felling revealed that a shockingly huge 7,539 trees were either going to be cut or transplanted. This tree uprooting and destruction of the riparian zone is proposed for the proposed stretches 9,10 and 11 from Sangamwadi to Kharadi where the work is in full swing.

Close to 75 citizens, which included experts and representatives of civil society organisations, were present at the public hearing today. The citizens present in the audience stated that

The proposal by PMC to cut and transplant a total of 7539 trees is illegal as there is no functional Tree Authority in PMC.

The Water Resources Department State, Government of Maharashtra has jurisdiction over water bodies of the state including rivers. There are no permissions provided by WRD for the tree-cutting, and transplantation proposal.

There is no EC clearance for cutting, and transplanting trees for the Riverfront Development Project along the 44 km stretch of the Mula and Mula Mutha rivers

It is objectionable that the PMC has proposed tree felling, removal, and transplantation without EC approval.

As there is no EC approval, the PMCs proposal for felling, removal, and transplantation of trees for the Riverfront Development Project along the 44km stretch of Mula and Mula Mutha rivers is illegal and needs to be entirely scrapped.

PMC has not published the requisite detailed notice in several leading newspapers in Pune city as required by law.

The dockets uploaded on PMC website (Annexure 2 ) do not provide inspection reports of the Maharashtra State Forest Department as required by law.

Surprisingly, the Chairman of the Tree Authority – PMC Commissioner Vikram Kumar, was absent for the hearing. He has double the responsibility in the absence of the Standing Committee.

Shailaja Deshpande, the founder-director of river restoration NGO Jeevitnadi said:

There is a huge discrepancy in what is on ground and what is mentioned in dockets.

  1. Except for a few species, none of the keystone riparian species names and numbers reflect in the docket.
  2. Number on ground and number in dockets do not match.
  3. By girth, height and age of trees on ground are mostly matured trees, which are purposefully shown below 45 yrs old.
  4. Identification of trees is wrong.
  5. Huge amount of regeneration is actually seen on the ground, which is getting scraped by heavy machines.
  6. Slow growth trees are not at all accounted for.
  7. Riparian habitats, which is a cluster of trees, climbers, shrubs, grasses and other eco-sensitive areas, must be treated differently.
  8. Overall, the riparian zone and its importance is totally disregarded.

Santosh Lalwani, Pune River Revival and member of Friends of Ecological Society said, “Let nature be at its natural best. We are polluting the resources we are blessed with. This pollution needs to stop and we need to clean our rivers. We should intervene in the rivers. The proposal shared by the Jeevitnadi, Friends of Ecological Society and all other NGOs must be thoroughly studied as it does not allow any construction that will hamper the river’s natural flow and habitat. We are against any development that will hamper the life of the river and the surrounding nature.”

‘Tara’ Tanmayi Shinde, a Master’s student, said, “This is the prime time of my life and instead of enjoying it, I am fighting for a safe and secure life. Why? Because few humans think it is alright to destroy the environment. Riparian vegetation is very important for Global Warming mitigation. What you suggest River Front Development will do, Riparian Zones i.e. the trees, are already doing that for years apart from mitigating impacts of climate change. The trees filter runoff to provide clean water, manage stormwater and control flooding, provide habitat for wildlife and shade to cool the water. Then why spend 4700 crore rupees for beautification when an amount less than this can be used for preserving and restoring these riparian forests and creating an invincible Sewage Treatment Plants?”

Charuta Palsodkar, an Associate Professor at Symbiosis Institute of Design, said, “The 75 people here represent 1 lakh per head of Puneites and we unanimously say not to cut trees. Instead, let’s collectively develop the river in the best possible ecological way, taking into account every stakeholder! We also have very good ecologists, botanists and experts in nature conservation here.”