Thursday, December 7, 2023

Rail Vikas Nigam Limited cannot uproot or replant any tree in Maidan area without permission: Calcutta High Court

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The Calcutta High Court has observed that Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) as of now, cannot uproot any tree in the Maidan area nor do any re-plantation of trees unless appropriate permission from the appropriate authorities are obtained.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya heard a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed seeking direction on the RVNL for stopping the construction work in the Maidan area adjoining the Victoria Memorial. 

By order dated 26th October, 2023, the  Division Bench had granted a limited interim order injuncting RVNL to immediately stop uprooting trees in the Maidan area until RVNL and the Union of India/Ministry of Environment file their affidavit in opposition for vacating of the interim order.  

It is submitted by the learned advocate for RVNL that as of now there is no cause of action to move the instant writ petition and there was no urgency pleaded to move the Court during the long vacation. In this regard, we may refer to a few paragraphs of the affidavit in opposition filed by RVNL dated 6th November, 2023. It has been stated that application had been made to the appropriate authorities of the Ministry of Defence and working permission has already been taken from the Defence authority   and the land has also been handed over by the Defence authority for construction of underground station. 

A joint inspection with SDO-III, the representative of Defence Estate Officer was conducted and during such inspection, it was certified that certain number of trees would fall within the construction area. The certified drawing with tree list was forwarded to the authority for approval of the concerned Defence authority and necessary action for the purpose of enabling the trees falling in the permanent construction area to be transplanted.

Further, it is stated  that upon such NOC being granted, further application will be made to the Conservator of Forests for according permission, if any, required. Further , it has been specifically denied that the construction work of proposed Victoria Metro Station is going on for the proposed Metro project after issuance of work order to the agency. It was stated that only cordoning of the area proposed for Victoria Metro Station has taken place and no question of construction work arises at this stage before grant of NOC from the Defence authorities and subsequent permission, if any, from the Forest authorities. Only identification of trees that will fall within the station area allowed to be constructed by an earlier order of the High Court .

By referring to the above submissions, the advocate for RVNL submitted that there is no cause of action to move the instant petition. 

Thus, what has been stated in the affidavit in opposition filed by RVNL, the Bench noted that as of now, there is no felling or uprooting of trees to be done by the RVNL as the appropriate permission from the appropriate authority is yet to be obtained. In fact, the application for such permission is in the process of being submitted.   

The  advocate for RVNL submitted that the interim order has great impact on the entire project and it has been widely published to state that the Court has interfered with the project to be developed by RVNL.  

The Court is of the view, this submission would be incorrect since the Court has not injuncted the project but has passed a limited order of injunction on RVNL to immediately stop uprooting of trees in the Maidan area until RVNL and Union of India/Ministry of Environment file their respective affidavits. Therefore, there is nothing to indicate that the project has been stalled or stopped by the Court vide its order dated 26th October, 2023. Therefore, RVNL need not have any apprehension in this regard.

With regard to the other issue as to whether the application under the Right to Information Act was sent to the appropriate authority or not, the same will be decided by the Court after the writ petitioner file his reply to the affidavit in opposition filed by RVNL and in the event, it is found by the High Court  that the submission of RVNL is acceptable, then it goes without saying that whatever prima facie observations made by the Court in its order dated 26th October, 2023 will have to be eschewed.  

“In any event, since the appropriate permissions are yet to be obtained from the appropriate authority, the question of felling of trees in the area or uprooting the trees or re-transplanting the trees in any other location does not arise”, said the Court listing the matter on  19th December, 2023 for further hearing.

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