Ghar wapsi of BBMP forest officials: Bengaluru’s greenery to suffer

Last month the BBMP relieved CCF and six RFOs claiming that there were only four sanctioned posts. What will happen to Bengaluru's green cover?

BBMP is left with only two officials now, to deal with the rampant tree cutting that takes place in the city. Pic: Shree D N

It isn’t for the first time that Bengalureans have witnessed the BBMP and its Forest Cell getting into a nasty fight. The cold war which had once come to the limelight with the repatriation of BBMP’s Chief Conservator of Forest, Brijesh Kumar (IFS) to his parent department in October 2012, had temporarily calmed down with his return to the post.

Two years on, the BBMP has relieved him again from the duty by issuing an order last month. This time, it isn’t just Brijesh Kumar, but six Range Forest Officers (RFOs) too have been booted out.

The repatriation of officials to the Forest department has raised the eyebrows of citizens, especially those who are batting for greenery in the city. While the BBMP Commissioner claims that they have only sent the excess staff in BBMP forest wing to the parent department, officials in Forest Department allege a conspiracy by the BBMP to weaken the regulation on felling of trees.

According to one of the officials who was relieved who didn’t want to be named, forest officials were humiliated at a meeting at the BBMP on December 2. Following the alleged humiliation, they applied for mass casual leave on December 7 and 8 as a protest against the treatment.

On December 10, CCF Brijesh Kumar and six RFOs received relieving order from the BBMP. Within a week, three Assistant Conservators of Forest (ACF) too were relieved, leaving the forest section in the BBMP with no officials.

The two ACFs (North and South) were functioning as Tree Officers, who are authorised to give permission to fell trees in BBMP limits. Since the ACFs were relieved from their duties without posting, they approached the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal (KAT) and got a stay to the orders.

However, on realising the error, the BBMP in its council meeting on December 28, passed a resolution to reinstate three ACFs (two Tree Officers and one Lake Officer) in the BBMP.

Where to complain on tree-felling?

As the BBMP Council has passed a resolution to retain two ACFs who are also the tree officers, the citizens can contact the ACFs to complain regarding tree felling or pruning issues.

Contact numbers of the ACFs are as follows:

  • Sathyanarayana (ACF North) – 9845161502
  • Ranganathswamy (ACF South) – 9480683842.

‘Is BBMP weakening regulations on tree-felling?’

In the absence of the CCF and the RFOs, the BBMP is now left with a Deputy Conservator of Forest and two ACFs who will be responsible for looking after tree-related issues in all 198 wards in the BBMP spread over 840 sq km.

Wondering how the BBMP would even manage Forest Wing with just two ACFs, Vinay Srinivasa, a civic activist, says: “The BBMP’s version has confused us. Earlier, the officials used to claim that there was shortage of staff / officials in the forest section due to which the afforestation programme was taking a back seat. Now, with the transfer of seven officials, we wonder what is going to happen to the greenery in Bengaluru. The tussle between the BBMP and the Forest Department is going to cost heavily to the trees and citizens of the city,” he notes, while demanding that the BBMP issue a white paper on the activities carried out by the Forest wing in last few years.

Environment Support Group (ESG) Coordinator Leo Saldanha questions the motive behind relieving the officers from the BBMP. “The first blunder was committed when the forest wing was made subordinate to Palike. They made yet another mistake by paving way for mass exodus of the officials. Has this been done to weaken the regulation on tree-felling in the BBMP?” he asks.

Transferred officials happy

However, the RFOs who have been relieved from the BBMP seem to be a happy lot. Speaking to Citizen Matters, one of the RFOs who wanted to remain anonymous said that they had requested for repatriation as they were ‘harassed’ at the BBMP. “Despite all our efforts to plant saplings and across the city, we were blamed of not doing anything. We were frequently insulted and were not given free hand to work,” he said. Though he agreed that not many saplings were planted in the core zone of the city due to lack of space, he said good work has been done in outer areas, such as Yelahanka.

In last few months, BBMP even stopped paying the mobile bills of the forest wing officials, and public had to struggle to contact them. Whenever the issue of tree-cutting and hoardings came up in council meet, these officials were blamed on record by the councillors. In an article titled ‘Understaffed, fund-starved, neglected, BBMP Forest Wing limps on’, Citizen Matters had explained how the Forest Wing was suffering.

According to the BBMP website, North and South divisions of the Urban Forestry and Environment Management Wing are independently functioning. They were constituted in 2007, for maintaining ecological balance in Bengaluru city by taking up afforestation activities, to create awareness about greenery among public, removal of dead and decayed trees from public places etc.

Tree planting by BBMP might take a hit in coming days, as the Forest Wing has only two officials. Pic courtesy: BWRCA FB Page

Tree-planting and maintenance might suffer

Considering that the ACFs have been reinstated to their posts, the process of tree-felling may not be hit directly. The ACFs, who are also Tree Officers, are the sole authority to issue permission for the felling or pruning of trees in Palike limits.

Technically speaking, the BBMP Commissioner is not at fault, as BBMP had only four sanctioned posts. All the rest were “excess” (there were 11 officials as against the sanctioned posts of four), and have been removed to reduce the “burden” on the BBMP. Yet what is in question is the effectiveness of the functioning of the forest wing, with just three officials for entire BBMP limits.

Speaking to Citizen Matters, one of the ACFs said on the condition of anonymity that the afforestation programme in the city is likely to suffer due to the above episode. The forest cell comprised of CCF, DCF, two ACFs, six RFOs and eight DRFOs. With the repatriation of seven officials, the forest cell will not be able to carry out its work effectively. The RFOs used to not only look after afforestation programmes in BBMP but also were receiving complaints on tree felling and forwarding it to the ACFs. The officials have been relieved despite the fact that the forest cell has a shortage of staff, who should be at least 34 in number to serve a large city like Bengaluru, the ACF said.

The direct impact of this transfer will be on the city’s greenery. Shortage of staff, delay in BBMP approving the plantation budget and internal conflicts between the BBMP and the forest wing, in all probability will take a toll on the city’s green cover in coming days.

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