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Supreme Court hears plea by Citizens of Green Doon on diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose

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The Supreme Court heard the plea of Citizens of Green Doon who pleaded that getting forest clearance from Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was without application of mind and the National Green Tribunal has no jurisdiction in respect of wildlife clearance.

The matter involved prime issue of diversion of forest land for non-forest purpose and cutting of tress for widening and elevated corridor construction of NH 72A between Dehradun and Delhi.  

The Advocate for Citizens of Green Doon submitted that whenever there is a diversion of forest land for a non forest purpose, the ecological cost has to be looked into and inspection needs to be minute. Forest clearance was granted without application of judicial mind.

Justice Aniruddha Bose states -If you are on mitigation factors then its compensation related.

Justice DY Chandrachud submits that let it come before the expert committee. To which, Counsel submits that the committee is neither expert nor possess any special qualification.

Advocate for Citizen of Green Doon submits that they say they will cut 8,000 trees but says this forest will come in another crown area. The felling in Uttarakhand has started. We have raised issue of biodiversity impact. It does not discriminate between private project and public project. The impact is not reduced. 

J. Bose submits that mitigation factor is compensatory factor which can be generated after road construction, provided there is mechanism for it. For that, there is expert committee.

DYC J: The committee which NGT has constituted has different body entities like Wildlife warden, conservator for forests etc.

On behalf of Doons, it was submitted that they can do compensatory afforestation but let them choose a degraded area for that. they have created 10 different areas which are already forested.

SC: We will take note of that and bring it to the attention of expert committee.

Petitioner counsel submits that as a tribunal, they could have assess efficacy of the underpasses and also NGT does not have jurisdiction with respect to wildlife clearance.

Counsel further submits – Height also, since these are elephant areas, when they cross they need to see the other side and sky.

Justice Chandrachud says- Mr. Solicitor, it’s a challenge to the order of NGT, AG had appeared earlier. petitioners say that NGT has given them liberty to appear for expert committee, he wants some unofficial members along with official members.

Further SG Mr.Mehta submits – Not trusting an officer merely because he is a govt servant would not be a correct approach. someone not from govt may have his own notions and no idea of ground level issues, Please leave it to the chief secretary.

Justice Chandrachud states that Let us keep this on Monday. Let Mr Ritwick Dutta suggest some names and you also tell us some expert names.

Further SG Mehta submits -We are apprehensive since it is not always in environmental interest.

 National Green Tribunal, Delhi granted forest clearance by holding that stage II/tree felling clearance are consequential and hold that mitigation measures have been implemented and monitored on the ground by the NHAI and the same are overseen by an independent mechanism.

In para 55 of the Impugned Judgment of Tribunal, passed by three member bench comprises of Adarsh Kumar Goel, Sudhir Goel, J.M.,Dr. Nagin Nanda directed to conduct compensatory afforestation by NHAI on 10 hectares of land in Uttarakhand and U.P., preferably more  on degraded area, and also directed NHAI to deposit a sum of Rs. 1 crore in a separate account for research of SAL regeneration.

Vide order dated 13.12.2021, The tribunal court also held that adequate provision may be made for mitigation measures for protection of wildlife in case of funds allocated for the purpose are found inadequate by the Committee. Further Steps
to be monitored will also include cordoning of elevated roads and other ecological sensitive stretches with proper barriers to absorb light and noise, fitting of cameras at strategic locations to monitor protection of wildlife movement and their habitats, mechanism for rescuing animals in case of any accidents, awareness for care and protection of wildlife.

The Tribunal appointed twelve members of Expert committee headed by Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand with nominees of WII, CPCB, Uttarakhand State PCB, Chief Wild Life Wardens, Uttarakhand and UP, SEIAA Uttarakhand, FRI, Dehradun, Divisional Commissioners, Saharanpur and Dehradun and Conservators of Forest, Dehradun and Saharanpur as members and appointed Chief Wild Life Wardens, Uttarakhand and UP will be the nodal agency in the respective States.

Another finding of the NGT, Delhi was that location of afforestation cannot be faulted merely on the ground that some vegetation already exists at such location. On the aspect of impact on biodiversity, the tribunal held that biodiversity impact not technically required as project is public project and not for any commercial exploitation.

NGT, Principal Bench at New Delhi made another observations that City congestion is not shown to be adversely affected by the project of road widening.

Citizen Greens Doon, raised  issue on substantial grounds before NGT , firstly, forest clearance were granted  on misleading information in form A, secondly, there is no ecological impact study while granting approval as required under Forest (Conversation) Rules 2003. 

BACKGROUND –

The Petitioner Citizens of Green Doon preferred appeal against the Divisional Forest Officer, Saharanpur with regard to stage -1 clearance process done by MOEF&CC on 24.12.2020 ,thereby permitting use of 47.7054 ha forest land (includes Protected forest and Reserve forest) for non forest purposes under Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and cutting of 8588 obstructing trees for widening and elevated corridor construction of NH 72A.

Same issue was dealt by Tribunal on 6.10.2021. The tribunal rejected application against with the reasoning that stage I clearance granted by Central govt. under section 2 of FC Act. On appeal, vide order of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 16.11.2021
in Civil Appeal No. 6497-498/2021, Citizens for Green Doon vs. Union of
India & Ors., the said order has been set aside and matter remanded for
fresh consideration.

The Petitioner Citizens of Green Doon challenged the order of National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench before apex court , filed against Uttar Pradesh Govt,Uttarakhand Govt, NHAI and Divisional Forest Officer, Saharanpur, U.P.

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