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Friday, 3 June 2016

A tree protection committee that defies its name

HYDERABAD: That the Tree Protection Committee (TPC) is nothing but a paper tiger, is no secret. But a quick scan through the Telangana government's recent submissions before the National Green Tribunal - after it stayed the felling of trees around KBR Park for the proposed Strategic Road Development Plan - shows how the body is actually working against the cause it was meant to defend.

Conveniently shifting the onus onto the TPC, officials, in their depositions before the court, stated that the decision to axe thousands of trees was taken after a thorough inspection by the committee. They argued that the government followed the rulebook to the tee and secured a go-ahead from the TPC for the job.
While the TPC has supposedly been elevated to the position of being the ultimate authority on environmental issues in Hyderabad, over half the members on this green panel comprise government officials.
It may be recalled that the NGT, following a news report in these columns, had taken suo muto cogni zance of the matter and ordered authorities on May 2 to immediately stall axing of over 3,000 trees. It had also sought responses from the Telangana chief secretary, secretary (environment and forest), commissioner (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) and principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) on the issue. The submissions were made on May 27.
Reiterating that the TPC discussed the issue threadbare before according permission for felling, Vikas Raj, secretary (environment and forests), Telangana stated that the body "...opined that the benefits of the project outweigh the loss of carbon involved during implementation of the project", and that it felt "...the loss (of green cover) could be compensated by taking up compensatory afforestation equivalent to three times the number of trees proposed to be felled, in addition to pavement plantation to be taken up". The statement went on to say, "The net reduction in pollution level, reduced traffic time and lowering of pollution levels around KBR National Park were considered as added bonus".
Responses of the other officials, including GHMC commissioner B Janardhan Reddy and principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Paresh Kumar Sharma are almost identical. They repeatedly harp on the TPC's approval for tree felling.
Incidentally, in 2008, the then Andhra Pradesh government was forced to constitute this committee after a prolonged campaign by TOI.Apart from six government representatives - PCCF, conservator of forests, director of urban forestry, divisional forest officer, additional commissioner of GHMC and superintendent engineer (roads & buildings) - the committee was designed to include three civil society participants - one member each from Forum for Better Hyderabad, World Wide Fund for Nature and United Federation of Residents Welfare Association. While the purpose of the body was to curb mindlessly axing trees, city environmentalists rue that the TPC has failed miserably in its job over the years.
"In its present form, the TPC is simply an eyewash. While on paper the committee has the power to take independent decisions, in reality its loyalties lie with the government.The members must realise that their duty is to protect the environment and they must do so without fear and without attempting to protect the people in power," said environmentalist K Purushotham Reddy.
"I think certain things are nonnegotiable as far as environment is concerned. If we are going to set up committees and find shortcuts to circumvent the law, we are compromising on the very core principles of environment...We have no issues with the TPC, but is it fully representative," questioned activist Usha Turaga-Revelli, an active participant of the `Save KBR' movement.

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