SC makes queries to govt on felling of trees of a certain species, age

CJI says certain species of trees could be identified and graded on the basis of their abilities to provide oxygen and to bind the soil

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Thursday asked the government whether measures could be taken to prevent the felling of trees of a certain species and age, after considering their contributions to ecology, even for infrastructure projects.

“Can something be done to see if trees of a certain age and type are never cut down,” Chief Justice Bobde addressed the government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati.

Chief Justice Bobde said certain species of trees could be identified and graded on the basis of their abilities to provide oxygen and to bind the soil.

Committee report

The remarks came even as a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee filed a report that said the felling of 300 heritage trees to construct five railway overbridges in West Bengal would cost India a staggering ₹2,23,50,00,000.

The 10-digit figure was arrived at by the committee after calculating the products these trees would produce over 100 years of their natural lifetime.

These include oxygen, micro nutrients, compost and bio-fertilizer, besides being valuable members of the natural environment.

The committee had said an individual tree annually parts with “products” worth ₹74,500.

Though the report was submitted a year ago, the figures of loss quoted in the report had managed to alarm Chief Justice Bobde’s Bench.

New protocol

The CJI had suggested framing a new protocol by which road and highway projects ought to be cleared only after checking the feasibility of other modes of transport like waterways and railways.

In case a road project was inevitable, the value of each tree should be “built into the cost of the project”, he had said.

The court had asked advocate Prashant Bhushan to draft the protocol in consultation with the government.

The report said the loss of 300 trees in West Bengal would be much more than the ₹500 crore sanctioned for the five rail overbridges, the committee report had said.

The five proposed bridges are part of a mega project financed by the Centre to construct 208 rail over and under bridges across 19 States in the country.

The ‘Setu Bharatam Mega Project’, as it is called, has a sanctioned cost of ₹20,800 crore. It is meant to better traffic movement, reduce accidents and avert deaths at rail crossings.

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