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"Cause Is More Important Than A Particular Bench": Supreme Court To Form Committee For Economic Valuation Of Heritage Trees

Srishti Ojha
18 March 2021 10:46 AM GMT
Cause Is More Important Than A Particular Bench: Supreme Court To Form Committee For Economic Valuation Of Heritage Trees
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Supreme Court has on Thursday observed that it will form a Committee for economic valuation of heritage trees, and ask it to submit the report in April. The Court has asked Centre to provide facilities to the Committee including place and secretarial assistance. The Bench clarified that it will decide on the time to be given to the Committee to submit its report."We will form the Committee,...

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Supreme Court has on Thursday observed that it will form a Committee for economic valuation of heritage trees, and ask it to submit the report in April. The Court has asked Centre to provide facilities to the Committee including place and secretarial assistance.

The Bench clarified that it will decide on the time to be given to the Committee to submit its report.

"We will form the Committee, we will ring up some people and ask if 2 weeks is okay. Otherwise we will given them 4 weeks. We will see" the Bench observed

A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian made the observation while hearing the case against the felling of trees for a project in West Bengal.

With regards to it's previous order for formation of the Committee , CJI Bobde stated that "We remember that we were talk about forming of Committee, any Committee formed will not submit its report before me. " CJI Bobde is scheduled to retire in April.

The Bench suggested that it can pass an order laying down principles for evaluation of the trees, and thereafter let the matter go before the committee for framing guidelines, otherwise the Court will lose season of the matter completely.

Sr Adv AM Singhvi submitted that, its a matter for experts. Its central government schemes implemented by State government. Even if inputs are received by March end, it might be possibly reversing the legitimate order, to pass a judicial order first. There are considerations and issues involved . The Court can take it in first week of April and ask the Committee to submit a report by first week.

SG Mehta suggested that he and Mr Singhvi can select a committee and request it to expedite its report.

The Bench stated that it had indicated last time that it would like, a very senior person and an expert Mr Ranjit singh, to head the Committee.

In response to SG Mehta's submission that Mr Ranjit Singh may be sick, the Bench clarified that he is not sick and has appeared before the Court also.

Bench observed that it will form the Committee with Ranjit Singh, and sought SG Mehta's suggestions regarding the other names. SG Mehta submitted that he will consult and give names by the evening or by tomorrow.

ASG Aishwarya Bhati submitted that the Union of India has already filed an affidavit and has given the names. It included Director General of the ICFRE, which is an 100 year old organisation with specialised experts on Board already.

We recommend that he be made Chairperson of the Committee. We have suggested one members be appointed from Indian Institute of Forest Management Bhopal, Indian Road Congress, Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun& Institute of Forest Productivity, Ranchi.

Dr Singhvi appearing for State of West Bengal submitted that he has also submitted names before the Court.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted that he has suggested name of Mr Pradeep Krishan as also suggested by West Bengal, and is agreeable to be in the Committee. Other name was UV Singh, who was appointed by SC in Karnataka mining. He was principal conservator of forest.

" We will form the Committee and give it time till April. Now you persuade them." the Bench observed.

The Bench asked Tushar Mehta's suggestions regarding the size of the committee. SG Mehta submitted that smaller Committee would be more effective, and 6-7 members would be fine. Advocate Prashant Bhushan suggested that a five member committee would be appropriate .

SG Mehta on a lighter note said "a Committee is a body of persons who decide together, that nothing can be decided together."

Dr AM Singhvi said "If your lordships won't haul me for contempt. Its an old formulation. Its not mind Committee is a group of unfit, appointed by unwilling, to do the unnecessary."

The Court asked SG Mehta to provide all facilities to the committee including a place and secretarial assistance.

SG Mehta submitted if the report is to be filed in 2 weeks it won't be a permanent committee requiring staff and place. The Bench said that they will need staff.

"Frankly I don't believe the committee can submit its report by April, but that's alright, as the Cause is more important than a particular bench. I am sure all of you will carry it on further" – CJI said.

The Bench reiterated that it will form the Committee, and will decide on the time to be given to submit a report.

The Apex Court had previously asked for suggestions regarding the Committee to set up a protocol for economic valuation of heritage trees on basis of species, ecological contribution, age, etc

The Bench, in its previous hearing had observed that it wants the Committee to tell the protocol.

"Somebody has to asses what is a heritage tree and tell us, what are the roots to explore before you want to build a road, and once you decide to build a road, then which trees can and cannot be cut down. If the trees are to be cut down how should they be valued." the Bench had stated.

Supreme Court had on 18th February indicated that it will lay down guidelines for the felling of trees for the purposes of highway projects. The Court had observed that it would like the government to explore alternatives before cutting down trees for roads. It had further said that it might constitute an expert committee for such guidelines and also to value felled trees for the purposes of afforestation compensation.

CJI Bobde had orally observed that the value of the trees must be computed on the basis of its contribution to the environment and not just the timber value. Trees produce oxygen, and bind the soil. Trees of a certain type, which have reached a certain age, should never be cut.

The bench was considering the petitions filed by Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and Arpita Saha challenging the felling of trees for the "Setu Bharatam" project. A Court-appointed committee has valued the costs of trees which would be felled for the project at a staggering amount of Rs 2.2 billion. The West Bengal Government, had taken objection to the Committee valuation by terming it as "hypothetical" and "highly speculative".

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