Protecting Pune’s green cover

On 13th November, some DGPS members, who are part of the Area Sabha Association of Pune (ASAP), a citizens’ group battling to protect the tree cover of Pune, attended a “public” hearing on objections to the decisions in the Tree Docket. Instead of a public hall or a conference room, the so called hearing was conducted within the closed confines of the Commissioner’s cabin. It was presided over by the Commissioner Shri Kunal Kumar, who currently holds the post of Chairman of the Tree Authority. None of the other members of the Tree Authority were present as is required under the recent rulings relevant to the Tree Act 1975. Instead, the Garden Superintendent, Shri Ghorpade, who has no business to be part of any decisions regarding tree felling, was at the Commissioner’s side, taking notes.

The ASAP members, Mr Vinod Jain and Mr Nandkishore Gosavi, among others raised very pertinent objections against decisions to fell public trees including the senseless butchery of the century old banyan trees at the Pune University circle. Most of the decisions were in gross violation of the Tree Act as well as recent rulings by the Mumbai High Court and the NGT. Some of the trees listed for felling in the docket were ficus trees, which flouts the High Court order banning the cutting of ficus trees. In most cases, there has been no inspection of the marked trees and no public notice inviting objections to the felling – as is required by law. An important point raised was that there has been very little accounting for the wood of the chopped trees which, when auctioned, should have brought in thousands of crores of rupees over the last few decades.

What was shocking was the utter indifference displayed by the commissioner and the other two members of the civic administration who were present. Every point that was raised ( and each one was a valid one) was greeted with a perfunctory ‘Noted. Next!’ by the commissioner. He wasn’t even bothering to take proper notes. This was just a token exercise, a farce from beginning to end. Protecting the tree cover of Pune apparently does not sit high on the priority list of this administration.

Every city in the developed world protects its green spaces zealously. Every time we travel abroad we are amazed by the huge parks, public gardens and protected urban forests right in the heart of urban clutter. Here in India, our idea of a Smart City concentrates on useless flyovers, bigger roads and exorbitantly expensive memorials – with little attention to our filthy roads, sewage infested rivers, choking canals, pathetic public transport and rapidly dwindling green spaces.

To come back to the meeting, it was concluded within twenty minutes because the Commissioner had to attend another event. The decisions have been postponed to 24th November. Which means that all of us who were there now have to take another morning out from work to attend another farcical hearing. This is how the fate of the trees in the photos below is decided.

Protecting Pune’s green cover – University Road

Senseless Destruction on University Road

Senseless Destruction on University Road

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The letter from Pedestrians First to PMC Commissioner on 8th November 2017 shows that traffic plans have been worked out by experts in such a way that traffic congestion will be reduced And trees will be saved.  The argument cannot be framed as “Green vs Development”. We have to work for a sensible long term vision in governance.

Dt. 08-11-17
To,
Mr. Kunal Kumar
Municipal Commissioner
PMC
Subject : Senseless actions by PMC at University junction
Dear Sir,
We make reference to the meeting with you earlier when presentation was given of our proposal for Aundh road widening in the vicinity of University junction. Our plan had been worked out without touching the magnificent banyan tree cluster as well as the heritage police chowky. It had been agreed in the meeting that this plan is workable and can be implemented as a golden mean avoiding destruction of trees and the chowky.
Recently WRI had also proposed a plan for University junction at the request of PMC. We understand that you had approved the plan and instructed that trials be conducted. As per our knowledge this plan too did not envisage cutting of trees at the junction or demolition of the chowky. 
Despite above, PMC demolished the heritage chowky and also cut some of the trees as well tree branches from the tree cluster. This has mutilated the magnificent cluster of grand old banyan trees. Worst part is that this action was unecessary and futile which in fact is likely to aggravate the congestion situation at the junction. It has to be noted that the Ganeshkhind road which receives the traffic from Aundh road is only about 12 metre wide and hence it is meaningless to widen the Aundh road to a width of 18 metres as per the DP. Hence the maximum width of Aundh road at the junction should be in the range 12 – 14 metres. It was possible to achieve this road width without cutting trees or demolishing the chowky and we had shown how it can be done in our plan. There has been no further discussion on the plan. PMC needs to explain to the public as to why the trees were cut and chowky demolished against expert advice and what benefits would be available for the city. 
 
As per modern practice, road junctions are designed to be compact for various reasons such as streamlined traffic flow, lesser time for vehicles to pass through the junction, shorter crossing distances for pedestrians and safer junction. PMC has appointed Urban design Consultants who are proposing designs to make existing junctions compact. University junction is already a big junction and the need is to make it as compact as possible. On this background it is quite shocking that PMC has cut grand old trees and demolished the heritage chowky which would now make the University junction much larger than what it is at presentPMC should clarify about this inconsistency in thought and action. 
 
It is now seen that even as the serious issue of tree cutting and saving remaining trees is being discussed, PMC has gone ahead and done tarring of road right up to the banyan tree trunk. This is in gross violation of the standard norms, Urban Street Design Guidelines (USDG) adopted by PMC and also Court orders which mandate that sufficient clear breathing space be kept around the tree trunk as per the trunk diameter, without any asphalting, concreting, blocks etc. PMC has very well taken care of this aspect on JM road. So why has such illegal deviation been done for the grand ols banyan tree at University junction? Moreover it is also quite dangerous for road to be extended right up to the tree trunk. There is possibility of accidents as well as damage to the tree. Due to above reasons there is every likelihood of the tree falling down in the near future. Is this what PMC really wants?
 
Whereas PMC has taken several progressive steps in the matter of road design and traffic engineering such as Pedestrian Policy, Urban Street Design Guidelines, Bicycle plan, appointment of Urban design Consultants for road and junction design etc., such actions on field as at University junction are contradictory raising serious doubts about the real intentions of PMC
 
We sincerely hope that various progressive steps being taken by you are not meant to be only a paper exercise. It would be good if you could spare some time with road & traffic activists to understand the gravity of the matter and take suitable corrective steps to salvage the situation.
Regards,
Prashant Inamdar
Convenor
Pedestrians FIRST