Pune: Mass Tree Felling Allegations In Gokhale Nagar’s Mendhi Farm: Residents Demand Accountability

Pune: Mass Tree Felling Allegations In Gokhale Nagar's Mendhi Farm: Residents Demand Accountability

Pune: Mass Tree Felling Allegations In Gokhale Nagar's Mendhi Farm: Residents Demand Accountability

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The allegations stem from activities at Survey No. 98 and 99, near Mendhi Farm in Gokhale Nagar. Residents and local activists claim that a significant portion of the area’s green cover has been destroyed to make way for a housing and commercial complex.

10 June 2024

By Ishika Kumar

Pune: In a controversial turn of events, Gokhale Nagar residents have accused a developer of felling 500 trees, despite having permission to cut only 65. 

This incident has sparked outrage and raised serious environmental concerns, leading to a heated debate between residents, environmental activists and the involved parties.

Residents Go Guns Blazing

The allegations stem from activities at Survey No. 98 and 99, near Mendhi Farm in Gokhale Nagar. Residents and local activists claim that a significant portion of the area’s green cover has been destroyed to make way for a housing and commercial complex. The permission for the tree felling was officially granted to the city based developer,  who categorically denied the accusations, questioning the feasibility of having 500 trees in a relatively small area.

Developer’s Defence

He refuted the allegations and dismissed the claim, stating, “It is impractical to have 500 trees on a 30-guntha plot. We obtained permission from the Pune Municipal Corporation’s Garden Department to cut down trees obstructing our project. Initially, we sought approval last year, and the corporation granted it recently for 69 trees. Only those trees have been cut. Claims of cutting 500 trees are unfounded.”

Discrepancies in Permissions

The project, located behind Veer Baji Prabhu Primary School, had initially requested the removal and replanting of 65 trees. However, discrepancies in the reported number of permitted trees have surfaced. He mentions 69 trees, while Horticulture Engineer Ravindra Kamble indicates that 105 trees were approved for felling. These inconsistencies have further fuelled the controversy.

Environmental Concerns and Protests

Social activists Samir Nikam and Sudhir Mukari have been vocal about the environmental impact, asserting that more than 500 trees were felled, which has significantly altered the landscape. They highlighted the risks posed by tampering with a natural stream originating from Vetal Hill that flows through the disputed survey numbers and overflows during the monsoon, potentially endangering nearby homes.

Nikam expressed his concerns, stating, “How can a non-existent expert committee approve the felling of more than 500 trees with permission for just 65? The names and qualifications of this so-called expert committee should be disclosed and investigated.”

Civic Authorities’ Stance

Ravi Khandare, Assistant Commissioner of the Shivajinagar-Ghole Road Zonal Office, clarified that the permission process involved expert opinions and was duly signed off by the municipal commissioner, who chairs the Tree Authority Committee. He emphasised that direct permission cannot bypass this process.

Ravindra Kamble, Horticulture Engineer, added that his department had received a complaint but lacked substantial evidence to act upon it. 

“If complainants provide photographic evidence of the alleged 500 felled trees, appropriate measures will be initiated,” he stated, also noting that altering the stream’s course falls outside their jurisdiction and is under the municipal commissioner’s authority.

Immediate Need for Intervention

The controversy has not only brought to light the environmental risks but also the procedural gaps in tree felling permissions. Residents and activists demand immediate steps to mitigate potential flooding during the monsoon season and call for accountability for unauthorised deforestation. 

The broader environmental implications are significant, considering Gokhale Nagar’s proximity to Vetal Hill, a critical green zone in Pune. The natural stream flowing through the area is vital for maintaining ecological balance and preventing urban flooding. Alterations to its course or the destruction of surrounding flora could have severe long-term impacts.

As the dispute continues, the pressing need for transparent processes in environmental clearances is evident. This incident provokes the importance of balancing development with ecological preservation. With residents prepared to escalate their protests, the onus is now on civic authorities and the developer to address these grievances and clear the confusion for accountability the citizens rightfully deserve.

They should have comprehensive checks and ensure such discrepancies do not occur in the future. The outcome of this controversy will likely set a precedent for future urban development projects in Pune, emphasising the need for stringent adherence to environmental regulations.