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Climate Change A Growing Concern: SC Constitutes Expert Committee For Formulating Guidelines On Felling Of Trees For Developmental Projects

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
25 March 2021 2:43 PM GMT
Climate Change A Growing Concern: SC Constitutes Expert Committee For Formulating Guidelines On Felling Of Trees For Developmental Projects
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The Supreme Court has constituted an expert committee for formulating scientific and policy guidelines with respect to cutting of trees for developmental projects.Dr. MK Ranjitsinh Jhala, wildlife expert and former Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India is the Chairman of the Committee. Other members of the Committee are (b) Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment,...

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The Supreme Court has constituted an expert committee for formulating scientific and policy guidelines with respect to cutting of trees for developmental projects.

Dr. MK Ranjitsinh Jhala, wildlife expert and former Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India is the Chairman of the Committee. 

Other members of the Committee are (b) Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change- Member Secretary of the Committee;  Arun Singh Rawat, DG, Indian Council for Forestry Research-Member; (d) Prof. Sandeep Tambe, (Indian Forest Service), currently working as Professor of Forestry at the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal- Member; Gopal Singh Rawat, former Dean and Director, Wildlife Institute of India- Member; Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Director, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, an expert in ecological economics- Member and (g) Pradeep Krishen, Environmentalist- Member.

The bench comprising CJI SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian also appointed Advocate K Parameshwar, as Amicus Curiae.

The court directed the committee to file its recommendations on the following aspects within four weeks from the date of its first meeting.

  1. These guidelines may specify the species of trees in categories based upon their environmental values considering the age and girth of the trees etc.
  2. The guidelines may provide special treatment for geographical area or eco-sensitive area, they may identify areas which need to be regulated and even identify a minimum threshold beyond which the guidelines will apply.
  3. The guidelines shall prescribe a mechanism for assessment of both intrinsic and instrumental value of 5 the trees, based not only on the value of timber, but also the ecosystem services rendered by the trees and its special relevance, if any, to the habitat of other living organisms, soil, flowing and underground water.
  4. The guidelines shall also mandate rules regarding alternate routes/sites for roads/projects, and possibilities for using alternate modes of transport like railways or water-ways.
  5. The guidelines shall also prescribe the mode of compensation financial and otherwise, the stage of depositing such compensation and the process that governs the computation and recovery. In this regard, the committee may consider the existing regulatory framework regarding calculation of Net Present Value (NPV) and may suggest necessary modification.
  6. In addition, the guidelines shall also specify the manner and mechanism of compensatory afforestation to be carried out using the deposited compensation, consistent with the native ecosystem, habitat and species.
  7. The Committee may consider the need for any permanent expert body and its proposed structural form.
  8. Any other issue incidental to the aforesaid objectives


The court was considering a special leave petition filed by Association for Protection of Democratic Rights in which the issue was whether to allow the Government of West Bengal to fell the trees, in order to construct Road Over Bridges (ROBs) and widen the Roads. The Calcutta High Court, while disposing PIL filed by the Association, had held that the felling of the 356 trees is necessary for implementing the important public project of constructing the five ROBs and the State respondents will be entitled to do so. The High Court also directed the authorities to carry out compensatory plantation of at least five trees for every tree felled in the same plot or in a plot as near to the plot as possible where the trees will be felled.

In its order passed on Thursday (25th March), the Apex Court bench made the following observations:

Sustainable development must remain at the heart of any development policy 

"The right to clean and healthy environment has been recognized as the fundamental right under Article 21 of the 2 Constitution of India. Article 48-A imposes duty upon the State to endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the Country. In addition to this, India is also a party to international treaties, agreements and conferences and has committed itself to sustainable development and growth. This legal framework indicates that sustainable development must remain at the heart of any development policy implemented by the state. It is essential to strike the right balance between environmental conservation and protection on one hand, and the right to development on the other, while articulating the doctrine of sustainable development. We may add that in our opinion conservation and development need not be viewed as binaries, but as complementary strategies that weave into one another. In other words, conservation of nature must be viewed as part of development and not as a factor stultifying development"

Imperative to make a realistic assessment of the economic value of a tree, which may be permitted to fell

One of the moot questions often involved wherever there is need to fell trees to develop a project is how just and fair compensation can be calculated for felling of trees by any authority or organisation which proposes such felling. We have no doubt that such compensation should be calculated and paid as a part of the project cost of the project which necessitates the felling of trees and such compensation must be utilized in an expert manner to create a better environment and, most importantly, increase afforestation. It is, therefore, imperative to make a realistic assessment of the economic value of a tree, which may be permitted to fell, with reference to its value to environment and its longevity, with regard to factors such as production of oxygen and carbon sequestration, soil conservation, protection of flora/fauna, its role in habitat and ecosystem integrity and any other ecologically relevant factor, distinct from timber/wood. We note that the issue assumes significance from the perspective of climate change as a growing national and international concern. The pivotal policy document in India on climate change is the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) formulated by Union Government in 2008, which recognizes that the country is committed to increasing tree cover from 23% to 33%. Under the Paris Agreement, India has committed itself to Nationally Determined Contributions in 2015, wherein one of the stated objectives is to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.


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