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  • Writer's pictureHindustan Times

High court sets aside tree pruning guidelines issued by Delhi govt

Vibrant green graphic depicting a case represented by AnantLaw covered in National News by Hindustan Times

This news report was authored by Richa Banka and featured in Hindustan Times on 15 June 2023. The article talks about a case represented by AnantLaw team.

The court’s decision follows a petition filed by a doctor, who said 800 trees in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar had been pruned without following proper procedure.

The Delhi high court has set aside guidelines passed by the state government for the pruning of trees in the Capital, that permitted the clipping of tree branches with a girth of 15.7cm without the permission of a tree officer, while observing that “a tree is a living being”, and a “last look” or final inspection should be accorded before its felling or the extensive amputation of its branches.

The court’s decision follows a petition filed by professor and doctor Sanjeev Bagai, who said that as many as 800 trees in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar had been pruned or lopped off without following proper procedure and guidelines.

Justice Najmi Waziri, in an order of May 29 that was made available on Wednesday, said that no pruning of trees will be permitted in Delhi except in accordance with the Delhi Protection of Trees (DPT) Act, where mandatory permission has to be taken from the tree officer.

The court said that it will be open to the Delhi government to frame guidelines and/or rules as may be requisite.

“Since section 9(2) of the Act mandates upon the tree officer to inspect the tree and conduct an enquiry as may be requisite, a visit to the site is imperative for assessing the situation comprehensively,” the judge said.

The court said that under the DPT Act, there is no sanction for the 15.7cm girth of a tree branch to be cut, and this figure is incongruous with the statutory requirements as mandated under sections 8 and 9 of the Act. It said that the “so-called permission granted under the guidelines seek to overreach the statute”, adding that they are in conflict with the Act and thus are “arbitrary” and “illegal”.

“Consequently, the permission for pruning, presumed to be or granted under the guidelines, would be of no consequence and shall always be non-est. Therefore, the guidelines permitting regular pruning of branches of trees with girth up to 15.7cm without specific prior permission of the tree officer are hereby set aside. The only permission that can be granted for pruning, etc is under section 9 of the Act,” the court said.

Justice Waziri also said that the guidelines to prune trees are essentially an informal administrative handbook to assist forest department officers, adding that they are not a part of any statute and do not carry a statutory flavour or character.

“The sole objective of the DPT Act is preservation of trees. The granting of permission for cutting, girdling, lopping, pollarding, etc of trees is to be strictly regulated and such permission is not to be granted for the asking. Yet the guidelines permit cutting/pruning of branches of trees having a girth/circumference up to 15.7 cm… How did this figure come about? What is the scientific basis for reaching that figure? What is the justification for applying the same thickness of branches to all species of trees in Delhi? Some trees may have slim trunk girth. For such specific species and otherwise too, the entire tree could well be wantonly pruned to reduce to a mere pole-like structure, as has been done to some trees in this case,” the court said.

Justice Waziri said that there may be occasions where rare species of trees may be sought to be felled. “The more solitary a tree, the greater its significance. Therefore, the responsibility of protecting and nurturing the solitary tree is far greater upon the tree officer and the authorities concerned. A tree is a living being. It must be given, at least a ‘last look’ and accorded a final inspection before a decision is taken to permit its felling or sanctioning extensive amputation of its live branches,” the court said.

Earlier on May 10, the court had put on the hold one of the clauses of the pruning guidelines and said that no land owning agency or authority, including the civic body, will be allowed to prune trees without reference of a tree officer.

Client: Prof. Dr. Sanjeev Bagai, Padam Shree
Prof. Dr. Sanjeev Bagai & Ors. v. Department of Environment, Government of NCT of Delhi & Ors.

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