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Transplanting non-heritage trees not viable due to cost, Committee tells Meghalaya High Court in PIL against felling of trees in NH 40 widening

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The High-Powered Committee (HPC) constituted by the Meghalaya High Court to study the feasibility of transplantation of trees that will be felled for widening the National Highway 40 has submitted its report saying, “Transplantation of certain non-heritage trees is not a viable solution since it appears to be costly and cumbersome.”

The HPC was constituted as a result of the PIL filed by Kaustav Paul against the cutting/felling of trees (some of which are of considerable heritage) for widening National Highway 40, which connects Shillong to Dawki, particularly in the vicinity of the Eastern Air Command.

By an order dated June 30, the High Court had constituted the HPC to suggest to the Court viable means to resolve the issue as raised in the instant PIL without compromising either with conservation of trees (some of which are of considerable heritage) and environment, on one hand, and development/expansion of the road project, on the other.

The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Biswanath Somadder and Justice H.S. Thangkhiew on July 22 upon perusing the report observed that the HPC had held extensive deliberations on July 3 and 8 and also visited the site on July 20.

The Committee has submitted the following conclusion to resolve the issue centering around the instant PIL:

i. NHIDCL has agreed in terms of its undertaking to execute the project for expansion of NH 40 (Shillong to Dawki) without cutting any heritage tree (between Chainage km 6.590 to km 7.360);

ii. As per the undertaking of NHIDCL, around 135 heritage trees falling (in) the right of way will be saved in pursuance of the understanding reached between all the stakeholders between the Chainage stretch of 6130-7360;

iii. As and when the need arises, the user agency/concerned authority can approach the State   Government for seeking approval for laying down utility infrastructure like water pipeline and telephone lines, etc., through the reserved forest in terms of general approval of the Government of India under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and MoEF and CC guidelines for the stated public utility projects;

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iv. Transplantation of certain non-heritage trees is not a viable solution since it appears to be costly and cumbersome. Therefore the HPC is of the view that compensatory afforestation and strip plantation may be adopted as an effective and viable solution; and

v. The Highway expansion project should be completed at the earliest in the public interest without cutting the heritage trees.

The High Court, therefore, directed the concerned parties to take steps in the manner as indicated by the HPC. The matter has been adjourned till  August 9 for further consideration.

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