CJI opposes cutting of 'Heritage' tress, says they are 'invaluable' as SC constitutes seven member expert committee

The court observed that most of the trees on that part of the road are 'heritage' and 'invaluable'

Credit : FIle

- Aditi Bagaddeo

The Supreme Court on Thursday, March 25, constituted a committee of seven environmental experts to suggest an alternative to cutting down trees for the construction of road over bridges and widening the National Highway 112 on the Indo-Bangladesh border from Barasat to Petrapole. The order was passed by a bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A.Bobde and Justice A.S.Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian.

CJI S.A.Bobde made remarks comparing this tree felling with the earlier cutting down of 4000 trees for the construction of Nagpur-Jabalpur Highway. He said, "When we cut a heritage tree, imagine the value of the oxygen the tree produced all these years compare it to how much you have to pay for an equivalent amount of oxygen these trees produced if you have to buy it from somewhere else."

The court observed that according to the reports submitted, most of the trees on that part of the road are 'heritage' and 'invaluable' as they are more than 150 years old. The court said, "Any compensatory value cannot replace trees of this value and these trees cannot be transplanted to some other locations."

The bench suggested making a realistic assessment of the economic value of the tree which may be permitted to fell with reference to its value to the environment and its longevity with the regard to factors such as the production of oxygen and carbon sequestration, soil conservation, protection of flora/fauna its role in habitat and ecosystem integrity and any other ecologically relevant factors. Furthermore, the court added that trees should not be cut for economic consideration.

The court sees the issue from the perspective of climate change and recognises a pivotal policy document in India on climate change National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) formulated by the Union government in 2008 which says the country is committed to increasing tree from 23% to 33%. Also under the Paris agreement, India has committed itself to Nationally Determined Contribution in 2015 wherein one of the stated objectives is to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Over the past decades, 31,000 trees were permitted to cut down to widen Mumbai Goa highway, over 1.89 lakh trees were cut for Bundelkhand Expressway, NHAI chopped more than 1.82 lakh trees for road widening and planted over 5.68 lakh three times more than cut but still be a shortfall of over 10.67 lakh trees as looking at the record NHAI should have been planted 16.35 lakh trees. Again 1 lakh were cut down for Mumbai Nagpur highway and in upcoming projects, more than 7 lakh trees could be cut down for highway projects.