Lok Adalat takes issue with roadwidening panel

In a Lok Adalat hearing on 19th November 2008, at the High Court of Karnataka, Justice K L Manjunath pointedly asked Yellapa Reddy, chairman of the committee overseeing Bengaluru’s road widening project to listen to the petitioners’ complaints on widespread tree cutting. The Adalat took exception to Reddy’s standpoint which appeared to one of merely representing local government officials’ views instead of striking a balance between citizens and officials.

As reported earlier in Citizen Matters, a writ petition was filed by NGOs Environment Support Group and CIVIC a few months ago against the tree cutting undertaken by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). Following that, on the court’s direction, the BBMP had constituted a nine-member ‘Sustainable Development Empowered Technical Advisory Committee’ in July 2008, under the chairmanship of Yellapa Reddy, a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service (IFS).

The court had ruled that the committee take public opinion into account and pass orders on the advice of the experts. It had also directed the BBMP and other agencies working on infrastructural development to consult the committee.

Chopped tree stumps from the road widening ongoing in the Madiwala area. At the junction of Hosur Road-Sarjapur Road, near St John's Hospital.

Chopped tree stumps in the Madiwala area where roadwidening proceeded earlier this year. File Pic: Meera K.

A Lok Adalat is a mediation court setup by High Court Legal Services Committee for amicably settling disputes by way of compromise. A Lok Adalat hearing involves a sitting or retired judge and one or more conciliators, who can be an advocate or social worker or expert. On Wednesday, this Adalat met to resolve the ongoing dispute between the petitioners of the original litigation and the committee.

Justice K L Manjunath, of the Karnataka High Court and Dr H C Sharat Chandra, Chairman, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board were adjudicating. The petitioner’s advocate noted their primary complaint: that the committee did not allow the petitioners to attend any of their meetings and their grievances or suggestions were not considered.

When the committee advocate was asked to respond, he repeatedly mentioned that the petitioners are never stopped and “they can attend the meetings as observers.” The Adalat retorted that the petitioners were not mere observers but participants. This was one of the major clauses of the high court ruling to form this committee.

Yellapa Reddy, Chairman of the Empowered Committee, came to the hearing with several members of the committee. Arguing his case, he accused the petitioners of forcing him to take action against M R Suresh, the tree officer of BBMP. As Reddy tried justifying the tree felling done by the BBMP, the Adalat warned him on talking on behalf of the authorities and advised him to take a balanced view. He was asked to listen to the petitioners and the respondents without any bias. This was a key moment in a saga that has gone on for several months.

Wheelchair participant in

A ‘Namma Raste’ walk held recently in protest against ‘reckless’ tree-cutting brought nearly a 1000 citizens. File Pic: Deepa Mohan.

More issues were raised by the petitioners, including the ‘illegality’ of tree felling, irregularities in following the procedures of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and so on. But as the Adalat does not have the powers to pass rulings, it concentrated on solving the disputes. “The Adalat is like a conciliator and cannot deliver judgments”, said Justice Manjunath.

However, in response to the grievances, the Adalat insisted that Reddy fix a date and time for the next committee meeting in front of the court. Justice Manjunath also asked the committee to ensure participation of the petitioners, and was told that failure to do so would be considered contempt of court.

Reddy finally announced that the next committee meeting would be held on Monday 24th November, and that he would ensure petitioners’ participation. BDA Commissioner, H Siddiah was also present at the hearing.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you Mohan…..indeed, this opacity in the method of operation is one of the things that aids the BBMP, and which we are fighting against.

    If you see any trees being felled, most probably you will see only the lower-order cutters working there. If you are unable to elicit any information from them, do contact ESG (Leo, Divya or Nandini) at

    2244 1977/2653 1339/2653 4364

    email: esg@esgindia.org

    esgindia@gmail.com

    Their address is:

    Environment Support Group®
    105, East End ‘B’ Main Road
    Jayanagar 9th Block East
    Bangalore – 560069.
    INDIA

    You can get further details at

    http://www.esgindia.org/contact/contact.html

    or

    http://www.esgindia.org/contact/contact.html

    They will immediately contact other volunteers on Hasiru Usiru (which is not an NGO, but only a group of volunteers) and we can take action on either the personal or the legal front.

  2. Is there any group that co-ordinates action/followup on tree cutting. Most of us get outraged when we see trees being cut. We all watch mutely (but internally we are all tensed) as we pass by such acts. If only a group can channelise everyone who feels outraged into one forum, we should be able to correct this virus of tree cutting. After all quantity counts in changing people’s perception. It is really like the story of the “Emperor without clothes”. Everyone knows it but we are not collectively saying it and turning it into action. Just this weeks (since Nov 17) trees are being felled in my area (Yelahanka near Allalsandra railway crossing). This was such a lovely road with large 30 years+ trees. There is no traffic necessiting tree cutting. There is absolutely no information on who is cutting and why they are cutting. I don’t know whom to even ask to find out or how to stop it.

  3. Another small step forward…if we manage to save *some* trees from unnecessary felling, and get the BBMP to change their mindset, the whole struggle will be worth it.

    When we met the members of the Empowered Committee, on Seshadri Road, they seemed to view the trees only as an obstruction. I felt that the trees were actually cutting down the intense emission pollution on that road….

    Cutting down 40-year-old trees is an irreversible process, and we must explore all other avenues before we have to do so.

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