Maharashtra cabinet passes amendment that defines “heritage trees”; accords high protection status

In case, the entity is unable to take a compensatory afforestation in lieu of felling the trees then the financial compensation for cutting the “heritage tree” will be substantially higher.

In a significant push to protect trees and the environment, the Maharashtra cabinet has approved the formation of the Maharashtra Tree Authority which will be empowered to ensure the protection of trees across the state. The Uddhav Thackeray headed cabinet in the same meeting also approved an amendment to the Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection and Preservation of Trees Act, 1975 after which trees older than 50 years will be classified as “heritage trees”, the Indian Express reported. The major overhaul in the environment legislations in the state will need to be passed from the legislative assembly in its coming session as the decisions for now have been approved in the form of an ordinance.

Which trees will qualify as “heritage trees”?
As per the amendment passed by the cabinet, the tree which is approximately 50 years old or more will be classified as “heritage trees”. Once the tree has been classified as a ‘heritage tree”, it will be accorded more protection and it will be more difficult for a project developer to fell the heritage tree. In other words, projects that can’t do without felling such trees will need to step up their compensatory afforestation. For instance, if an infra developer gets rid of a 52 year “heritage tree”, she will need to plant 52 new plants which are at least 6-8 feet high at the time of planting. As per the amendment, the newly planted trees will also be taken care of by the same entity for at least 7 years and survival of all such trees will need to be ensured for the same period.

In case, the entity is unable to take a compensatory afforestation in lieu of felling the trees then the financial compensation for cutting the “heritage tree” will be substantially higher.

Other key provisions
The newly constituted Maharashtra Tree Authority will regulate the felling of trees for various projects across the state. As per the new amendment any project that plans to cut at least 200 trees(estimated to be 5 years old) will need to send the proposal to the Maharashtra Tree Authority and only after its sanction will the project move forward. On the other hand, proposals to cut trees which are estimated to be less than 5 years old will be vetted by the local municipal authorities, according to the new amendment. The local tree authority in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tree Authority will also conduct a census of all trees including the “heritage trees” every five years.

Environmentalists welcome new decision
The changes approved by the state cabinet will have a far-reaching positive impact on the state of environment if implemented in right spirit, several environmentalists told the Indian Express. Green activist Zoru Bhathena told the Indian Express that the amendment has several good provisions but previous initiatives like these have remained on paper. Bhathena also said that the genuine implementation of the laws will truly transform the state into a greener state. Another environmentalist D Stalin of NGO Vanshakti told the Indian Express that the laws approved by the government are far better than previous legislations on the subject.

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