Chandigarh, February 6
Nearly seven months after a 16-year-old girl student lost her life and 19 others got injured as a heritage peepal tree fell on a group of students on the premises of Carmel Convent School, Sector 9, the one-member inquiry committee has given a clean chit to the school.
The UT Administration had constituted the inquiry committee headed by Justice Jitendra Chauhan (retd) on July 13 to ascertain the facts of the case and fix responsibility, including remedial actions to be taken.
Fungal attack main cause
- The peepal tree on Carmel premises was not in ripe age, but being diseased it couldn’t sustain weight and fell
- A fungal attack on main trunk affected heartwood of tree that provides mechanical strength, says one-member panel report
- Since sapwood of trunk is unaffected, canopy stays green and from appearance its hard to assess tree’s health, it says
Remedial measures suggested
- Create ‘Green Brigade’, involve residents’ welfare society members
- Conduct ultrasonic evaluation of very mature trees
- Hold extensive survey of dead and dried up trees
- Create single window for prompt processing of felling applications
- Hold regular inspection of heritage trees; phase out eucalyptus trees, etc.
In the report, the committee has shed light on various aspects of the incident, including excerpts of statements during interaction with various students, teachers and officers of the administration. The committee has mentioned the UT order dated December 21, 2017, holding the department/institution on whose premises heritage trees stand responsible for protection, preservation and conservation in coordination with the Forests and Wildlife Department, UT.
The report states: “The peepal tree that fell on July 8 was not in its ripe age, that being so, it emerges despite being in its youth, being diseased the tree collapsed, as it could not sustain its weight and fell. The custodian of the tree (school authorities) being layman and not an expert, it is not expected from the school that it could fathom the consequences of retaining such mature tree on the premises. So, it is for the department to educate and guide such custodian as to how the whole process of conservation is to be carried out and thus there should have been clear guidelines in this regard.”
The report, prepared by the team of experts of the Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehradun, mentions a fungal attack on the main trunk affected the heartwood of the tree that provides mechanical strength to the tree.
As a result, such trees fall due to any storm, heavy wind or by the self-weight of the canopy. Since the sapwood of the tree trunk remains unaffected, its canopy remains green and from outer appearance it is difficult to assess the health of the tree. Thus, the school authorities cannot be held guilty of negligence or cannot be termed as facilitator of the occurrence, states the report.
The report further says the tragedy happened due to lapses by the Engineering Department, as officials failed to visit the spot, devise a specific protocol to keep such trees in good health and accord specialised treatment, if any, available to strengthen the tree.
However, the administration is of the opinion in the absence of any clear guidelines, the officials of the department are not authorised to enter the premises of a private institution having a heritage tree on its premises. A detailed guideline has been issued subsequently to avert any such untoward and tragic incidence in the future.
The committee has further given a few remedial measures and suggestions such as creation of a ‘Green Brigade’, associating members of the Residents Welfare Societies; ultrasonic evaluation of very mature trees; extensive survey of all dead and dried up trees; creating a single-window system to process felling application with faster delivery for trees posing danger to life and property; regular inspection of heritage trees; phasing out of eucalyptus trees, etc.
In response to the remedial action to avert such incidents in the future, the UT stated it had already taken prompt action to further streamline the procedure with special emphasis on dead/dried up trees. A single window has already been created to apply for permission for felling. All dead/dried up trees will be removed within 48 hours. The rate contract for immediate felling of trees subsequent to receipt of felling permission by competent authorities is already in place. Further, a committee has been constituted for regular inspection and reporting of the heritage tree at periodic interval of three months.
A detailed survey of all trees standing on the premises of the 207 schools in the city has been conducted and subsequent action taken to remove 94 dead/dried up trees from premises. Remaining 30 heritage trees have been thoroughly verified for their health, taking due expert assistance from the Dehradun institute. Two heritage trees (in Sectors 19 and 33), which were not found to be in healthy condition have been removed and pruning done of two trees.
School not to blame
Custodian (school), being layman and not an expert, couldn’t fathom consequences of having a tree on premises. Thus, school authorities can’t be held guilty of negligence or termed as facilitator of occurrence, says the report.
Lapses by UT dept
Tragedy occurred due to lapses on part of Engineering Dept as officials failed to visit spot, devise a protocol to keep such trees in good health & give specialised treatment available to strengthen these.
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