BBMP's pre-dawn operation leaves only two trees standing

Respite for Malleswaram residents fighting to save the 19 trees on Sankey Road came a little too late. Their fight against the road widening project and to save the giant trees has almost gone in vain as most of them had been felled by the time the Karnataka High Court ordered a stay against further cutting Friday evening.

The tree felling, which had commenced as early as 1.30 a.m. on Friday amidst tight police security and opposition from the residents, was stopped by 6 p.m. following the court order. By then 17 of the 19 trees had been felled.

Secret auction

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), which secretly auctioned the trees on Wednesday, chose to go ahead with the felling even as the hearing on the public interest litigation (PIL), filed by Meenakshi Bharath and five others, was going on in the High Court. In a rare gesture, the judges — Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice S.N. Satyanarayana — hearing the PIL even visited the spot in between the proceedings.

When the Bench, which completed the hearing around 5.50 p.m., wanted to know how many trees had been cut, the BBMP counsel informed that only two trees of the 19 were left standing.

Earlier in the morning, the petitioner's counsel requested the Bench to take up the petition, though it was not listed for the day, due to urgency. The Bench decided to hear it before lunch break. During the hearing, the Bench tried to identify the location based on the map produced by the petitioner. It then said it was difficult for it to identify the location before it could pass any interim order.

When the hearing resumed after lunch break, the judges pulled a surprise when they announced that they visited the spot in a private car to understand the location. After the court hours, the Bench resumed hearing in the chamber of Justice Manjula Chellur as the petitioner's counsel wanted to show a presentation to show that road widening can be taken up by preserving the trees

Protesters arrested

Meanwhile 12 protesters, including environmentalist Suresh Heblikar, Vinay Srinivasa of Hasiru Usiru and Meenakshi Bharath of Malleswaram Swabhimana Initiative, who spearheaded the campaign against tree felling, were detained by the police.

While residents claimed that the protesters taken to Vyalikaval Police Station were booked under several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, DCP (Central) G. Ramesh said that they had been only taken into preventive custody. It is learnt that the charges that included 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), Sections 143 and 149 (punishment for unlawful assembly) were dropped only after the Police Commissioner Jyothi Prakash Mirji intervened.

Minor injuries

Activist Victoria D'Souza and a few other protesters sustained minor injuries when they were being taken into custody. Pappanna, one of the protesters, said that they had only approached those cutting the trees demanding they show the permit. Suresh Kumar, conservationist, told The Hindu two other protestors were manhandled by the police during the wee hours of Friday when they resisted cutting of the trees.