Trees being felled or the remains of cut trees have sadly become an increasingly common sight in the garden city of Bangalore nowadays. Some of us have questioned, protested or expressed our indignation in various ways at these appalling and often baseless actions by the government. A few have tried to compensate this loss by planting trees elsewhere after ensuring feasibility.
Such indiscriminate tree felling that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) ‘authorities’ have undertaken irked Vikram Simha, a well known Right to Information (RTI) activist in Bangalore with the Mahiti Hakku Adhyan Kendra (MHAK) and a lover of trees. "This department allows the cutting of trees on one hand and builds tree parks on the other. We have been living with trees which have survived for long with minimal care!" Simha told Citizen Matters in a telephonic conversation. Further, when he learnt that the BBMP had a forestry cell where officers were on deputation from the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD), he decided to find out some specifics. As a result, Simha filed an RTI application to the BBMP in end July 2010. Through this document, he asked if the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act permitted the creation of the position of a forest officer under the BBMP. Simha also requested the names of the officers and the date, tenure of their respective appointments, their responsibilities and the terms of service.
When Simha did not receive a sent a response within the stipulated 30 days of sending the RTI application, he wrote a letter to the BBMP. In this he reminded the Public Information Officer (PIO) of his pending application and informed that he would be compelled to escalate the issue if he did not get a reply quickly. In the experience of Simha and other long time RTI activists like him as mentioned in this Citizen Matters report dated July 31, 2009 on the subject, many PIO’s are unaware of even the basics of the RTI Act and relevant procedures. "We usually try our best to educate PIO’s as we understand that they have minimal training on the RTI Act and no benefit for this additional role. And filing an appeal before the Karnataka Information Commission (KIC) and obtaining a satisfactory resolution is a long drawn process". Incidentally, Simha and other long time RTI activists in Bangalore have been involved in studying and monitoring the implementation of the Karnataka Right to Information Act (which preceded its national version enacted in 2005), since 2002.
The BBMP soon sent a response to Simha stating that its forestry department was established in 2008. But the body did not furnish a copy of the relevant official notification. The reply also stated that the division has 12 Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers on deputation from the KFD. However, the BBMP forestry department’s Introduction and Objectives document declares that the BBMP’s forest wing has been functioning independently since 2007. It also refers to government orders dated 9th March 2007 and 5th January 2009 that together sanctioned 2 posts each for Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) and Additional Conservator of Forests (ACF).
In Simha’s opinion, urban afforestation does not require the expertise which IFS are supposed to possess. One mainly needs to know about the species of trees suitable for cities. And the BBMP’s department of horticulture which is responsible for maintaining parks is quite capable of handling trees in Bangalore. (It is important to note that Simha is himself a retired government officer with good awareness of various legislations, government departments, official positions et al). At present, Simha plans to appeal to the Lokayukta to investigate this issue.