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UP plea to cut 2,940 trees: Supreme Court says cutting 90-year-old tree and planting sapling is just not the same thing

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The Supreme Court heard the MC Mehta case regarding the felling of 2,940 trees for constructing roads in Uttar Pradesh. The bench comprising Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, Justices A.S. Bopanna, V Ramasubramanian said that if the trees are retained, the road may not be necessarily straight and not capable of high speed. However, it is known that high speed causes innumerable accidents on roads, the bench observed. The state may consider the reduction in the number of trees proposed to be cut for the purpose of constructing roads and buildings, the court said.

The Public Works Department assured the court that they will compensate by planting the same trees in another area so that there is no loss to the environment in general.

However, it was not possible for the court to accept a compensation in mathematical terms particularly when there was no statement coming from the state of Uttar Pradesh and PWD about the nature of trees that is to say whether they are classified as shrub or large trees, the bench observed.

The Chief Justice of India said there is no information available regarding the age of the trees since it is said that there cannot be compensation to a 100-year tree which is cut down.

The CJI then questioned the PWD counsel about the species, number and age of the trees and on whose land are the trees.

CJI to PWD counsel-How many trees out of 2,940 belong to what species?

PWD counsel-These are like bush trees and not like banyan trees.

CJI- Is Babul a small tree?

PWD counsel -Babul tree is not an important tree.

CJI-You want to cut down 39 trees which are banyan trees.

PWD counsel-Banyan tree is only one, my lord.

CJI-You want to cut down Gulmohar tree also.

PWD counsel-It is a flower.

CJI-We know what is a Gulmohar tree.

PWD counsel- We will plant same tree which has been cut.

CJI-What is the age of the trees? You cut down a 90-year-old tree and plant a new sapling which is only a few weeks old?

“A tree which has survived for a number of years must be valued accordingly. It must have given oxygen for a number of years,” the CJI said.

He asked the counsel about alternate methods which could avoid the cutting the trees.

“If you make the road surrounding the trees, there will be less accidents and traffic,” the CJI said.

Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for state of UP, was not in a position to make a statement as to how the forest department will evaluate the compensation for felling down the trees. PWD counsel said that the forest department will value the trees.

Amicus curiae ADN Rao said there is a method for evaluation which is NPV and is available in the state of UP. The matter was adjourned for two weeks to enable the state of UP to tell the court the method of evaluation which can be made.

In another plea listed in MC Mehta case regarding the Taj trapezium air pollution case, the UP government sought Supreme Court permission to set up a leather park for leather industry.  

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The CJI said that MC Mehta is the main petitioner and amicus and he has not been able to inspect the area and file his report on this due to Covid-19. The CJI granted 3 months time to MC Mehta to inspect the site including water sampling of the proposed leather park near Agra and file reply. To this, the UP State industrial corporation said in the court that if the delay is due to the logistical issue of travel, the government can facilitate it. However, Mehta has not raised such an issue. If he raises any such demands you can facilitate him, CJI said.

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