New Delhi: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde on Thursday said the importance of heritage trees is invaluable, as we do not take into consideration the oxygen the tree has produced throughout its lifecycle.
The observation came during the hearing of a petition opposing felling of hundreds of heritage trees by the West Bengal government near Kolkata for the construction of a railway overbridge (ROB) and for widening the road to the Bangladesh border.
Chief Justice Bobde said: “When you cut a heritage tree, look at the value of the oxygen the tree produced all these years. Then try to compare it to how much you would have to pay if you were to have to buy it from somewhere.”
Recalling that the construction of the Nagpur-Jabalpur road, which led to the felling of around 4,000 trees, the Chief Justice said in the legal context, the order was upheld by the High Court, but the enormous loss to nature must not be ignored.
He also said he is in favour of the construction of ROBs, as it saves human lives and also the widening of the road, but it does not mean the authorities concerned stop exploring alternatives.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), said the agencies concerned did not explore the alternatives and the permission was granted to fell heritage trees, which were aged around 80-100 years.
He also cited the impact of global warming and the danger it entails for the human civilisation, as reckoned by climate scientists across the globe.
The Chief Justice also added that trees should not be cut for economic considerations.
“The idea of economics of cutting the tree, and if there is a delay, then we look at the cost attached to this delay in the execution of the project.” He observed this case presents the usual dilemma between environmental degradation and development.
Bhushan suggested underpasses could be an alternative to ROB and also the alignment of roads could be changed, which may result in saving the trees.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the West Bengal government, said that the Calcutta High Court had examined all aspects after which it granted permission to fell 356 trees, which is required for ROB and widening of road. Singhvi insisted ROBs will definitely save human lives.
The apex court ordered constitution of a four-member committee comprising three independent specialists and a government representative, to explore alternatives for the project. The committee will report back on the issue after four weeks, and the court will take up the matter after five weeks. The committee of environment experts will examine an alternative to felling of over 350 trees for construction of the ROB and widening of National Highway-112 from Barasat to Petrapole on the Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal.
The Calcutta High Court in August 2018 had allowed felling of over 350 trees for widening of Jessore Road, which connects the city to Petrapole. The court put in a condition that five trees will have to be planted for each tree.