The Calcutta High Court has adjourned the hearing of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the request of the state counsel who sought leave to file before the High Court an undertaking of the competent authority disclosing the fresh cut-off date before which the work of compensatory plantation will be completed.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj heard a PIL filed by an NGO over the felling of trees in the widening of Tarakeswar-Chawkdighi Road.
It is stated that 826 trees on both sides of the road will be cut for widening and such felling will have adverse impact on environment and ecological balance. Further plea has been raised that necessary permissions have not been obtained and due procedure has not been followed before starting the process of cutting of the trees. In the petition, the prayer is to restrain the concerned respondents from cutting the trees.
The counsel for the respondent had assured this Court on July 25, 2022 that till the next date of hearing, no trees in question will be cut. Thereafter, the report in the form of affidavit on behalf of the respondent has been filed placing on record the relevant documents. On the direction of the High Court, the original record relating to permission to cut the trees in question has been produced.
Raghunath Chakraborty, the counsel for the petitioner, submitted due procedure was not followed and relevant information was not disclosed while taking permission to cut the trees. Referring to the document enclosed along with the report dated July 29, 2022, he submitted that the documents enclosed with the application for felling of trees in prescribed Form-I (B) have not been disclosed and that certificate in connection with felling of trees in Form-I (C) is signed by the Pradhan but it does not disclose any resolution of the concerned Panchayat.
He has further submitted that in terms of the notification dated August 22, 2013, prior clearance of the impact assessment authority is required and that in the inquiry report Form-II, all the columns have not been filled up. He has further submitted that the concurrence of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board has not been obtained and provisions of Section 9 of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006 have not been complied with and provisions of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Rules, 2007 have not been adhered to.
The counsel for the State has contended that the trees are standing on government land and they are on both sides of the existing road. Therefore, it is necessary to cut them to widen the road. He submitted that due procedure has been followed and all requisite permissions have been taken, therefore, there is no legal impediment in cutting of those trees. He further submitted that compensatory plantation will be done once the widening is complete and the plan has already been placed on record in this regard. He has also submitted that a declaration was also filed before the competent authority giving time limit for compensatory plantation and requisite declaration will also be filed before the High Court.
The Court noted that the application in Form-I (B) for felling of trees in non-forest areas/certificate of clearance in respect of developer in terms of rule 4(2) and rule 7 (2) of the Rules of 2007 was submitted for the purpose of felling the trees in question. Along with the said application, a list was enclosed disclosing the species, approximate height, natural or planted, physical condition, etc. of the trees. A compensatory plantation plan duly approved by the Forest Range Officer enclosed with the application, is available in the original file. Certificate of clearance for developer in Form-IV and permission for felling, disposal/disposing of trees in non-forest area in Form-III in terms of rule 5(2) is contained in the original file. It has been pointed out that the certificate in Form-I (C) is to be issued by the Pradhan.
The notification dated September 14, 2006 has been placed on record, the schedule of which contains the list of projects or activities requiring prior environment clearance. The expansion of the State highways, greater than 30 km, is covered in the said schedule. It has been pointed out by learned counsel for the State that the expansion work in question is not greater than 30 km and that the work relates to State highways.
Hence, the Bench found no error in the stand of the State that prior environmental clearance is not required. The notification dated August 22, 2013 also takes note of State highways expansion projects except those in hilly terrain and ecologically sensitive areas exempted from purview of Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. The counsel for the State has also relied upon the judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of National Highways Authority of India vs. Pandarinathan Govindarajulu and Another reported in (2021) 6 SCC 693 wherein the notification dated August 22, 2013 has been noted with approval.
Hence, the Court opined that due procedure has been followed by the State authorities and necessary permissions have been obtained for the purpose of felling the trees in question. It is worth noting that the felling of trees is for the public purpose of widening of the road which cannot be carried out otherwise.
The counsel for the petitioner has placed reliance upon the judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter of State of West Bengal and Others vs. Mani Bhushan Kumar reported in (2011) 10 SCC 147 but the said judgment relates to the issue of concurrence in terms Section 88 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 in case of inter-state permit. The present case stands on a different footing and even otherwise, no irregularity in respect of the concurrence by any competent authority has been found in the matter.
So far as the compliance of Section 9 of the State Act of 2006 is concerned, the Court noted that the same has duly been complied with. Thus, in the aforesaid circumstances, the Bench do not find any flaw in the permissions which have been obtained by the respondent authorities for the purpose of felling of trees.
For the next issue which is about compensatory plantation of trees which is also an important and relevant issue in this case, the Bench noted from the original record reflects that before the competent authority, a declaration was submitted by the Assistant Engineer that against the cutting of 840 number of trees, the five times of trees, i.e., 840 x 5 = 4200 trees will be planted on both sides of the Tarakeswar-Chawkdighi road within the length of 13,000 metres and within 18,000 square metres and that the plantation will be done on or before January 22, 2022.
“Learned counsel for the State has submitted that compensatory plantation in terms of the said declaration could not be done because the work has not progressed. He has sought leave to file before this Court an undertaking of the competent authority disclosing the fresh cut-off date before which the work of compensatory plantation will be completed. Hence, we adjourn the present petition for the limited purpose of filing the above undertaking on the next date of hearing. List on January 30, 2023,” the order reads.