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For cutting 62 trees, Calcutta HC directs man to pay Rs 40 crore penalty, plant 100 trees

In this petition, the petitioner has been charge-sheeted under the provisions of Section 11(1) of The West Bengal Trees (Protection And Conservation In Non-Forest Areas) Act on February 27, 2017, and charged with cutting 62 trees under the garb of removing stagnant water.

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The Calcutta High Court has recently directed one Soumitra Kanti Dey to pay a penalty of Rs 40 crore and also plant 100 trees for illegally cutting 62 trees in the guise of removing stagnant water.

A single-judge bench of Justice Rajasekhar Mantha passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Dey. The petitioner has filed this plea after being charge-sheeted under the provisions of Section 11(1) of The West Bengal Trees (Protection And Conservation In Non-Forest Areas) Act on February 27, 2017. The petitioner has applied for compounding of the offence in terms of Section 16 of the said Act.

It is submitted that the hacking of trees occurred in course of compliance with a notice of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to remove stagnant water that accumulated in the property to discourage disease-carrying insects.

The cutting of trees has nothing to do with the removal of accumulated water. Yet under the garb of removing water, as many as 62 trees have been cut. Compounding has also been sought on the ground that the petitioner is a first-time offender and is willing to replant double the number of trees in the said plot or anywhere else that the Forest Department may direct.

“It appears that the owners had intended to construct a seven-star hotel at the said premises. While the entreaties made by the petitioner appear to be attractive, one cannot lose sight of the fact that each tree, totaling 62 in number, has left a permanent wound on the environment. Irreparable damage has been caused to society by the conduct of the Petitioner,” the Court observed.

Given the heinous crime committed, the impugned order dated January 5, 2019 does not otherwise call for interference, the Court held.

“However, considering the fact that punishing the petitioner with a limited amount of imprisonment under the 2006 Act would not bring back the trees, compensating the State/Forest Department/Society would be just and fair penalty, penance and retribution. The compensation shall be used to develop the environment in general and maintenance of better vigil against illegal tree felling,” the Court said.

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“The Court is, therefore, inclined to permit compounding of the aforesaid offences mentioned in the aforesaid charge-sheet only upon payment of Rs 40 crore to the respondents within a period of 15 days from date. The petitioner and/or the owner of the property M/s Emaar India Limited would additionally have to plant and ensure growth of about 100 trees on the said premises at No. 11 Russell Street, Kolkata 700071.

It is made clear that the payment of the said amount would not ipso facto entitle the Petitioner to develop the property. The same would be subject to permission of all the authorities under all applicable Statutes and Rules,” the order said.

With the aforesaid direction, the Court disposed of the writ petition.

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