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SC Seeks Centre's Response In Plea Challenging Notification That States No Environmental Appraisal Required For Road Expansion Projects Of Less Than 100 Km

Srishti Ojha
10 March 2021 3:37 AM GMT
SC Seeks Centres Response In Plea Challenging Notification That States No Environmental Appraisal Required For Road Expansion Projects Of Less Than 100 Km
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Supreme Court has on Tuesday issued notice in Advocate Prashant Bhushan's plea challenging government notification that states that road expansion projects less than 100 km in length would not require any environmental appraisal. A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued the direction while hearing a case against the felling...

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Supreme Court has on Tuesday issued notice in Advocate Prashant Bhushan's plea challenging government notification that states that road expansion projects less than 100 km in length would not require any environmental appraisal.

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

The Court has also asked the Center to respond to Bhushan's submission regarding non appointment of an Environmental Regulator by the government.


According to Bhushan, despite the Supreme Court's repeated directions for formation of an independent Environmental Regulator through its previous judgements, the Government has still not appointed an Environmental Regulator, and environmental appraisal have become a farce.

During the hearing today, the Court heard submissions from the Counsels regarding the Committee that is to be formed for economic valuation of heritage trees.

During the hearing today, ASG Aishwarya Bhati appearing for the Union submitted that the Court had 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 Union has submitted its suggestions for the same through a note.

Senior Advocate AM Singhvi appearing for West Bengal submitted that the Court's was to take suggestions from every one and decide whatever names the Court thinks appropriate.

ASG Bhati submitted that the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, an 100 year old organization with a pan-India presence, and should be included in the Committee.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan informed the Court that they have not received a copy of the Union's note.

"How can you do this Ms Bhati? Why can't you give them a copy." the Bench remarked

CJI Bobde stated that the Union's note has not included name of Mr Ranjit Singh, who drafted the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and a highly respected member of this field. The Court stated that they had specifically mentioned his name in the last hearing, and he should chair the meetings.

ASG Bhati submitted that each state has its own act, and it would be pertinent to hear the States also.

Bench stated that they will hear the States but not at this stage. Here, the Court wants the Committee to tell the protocol and the States don't have to be heard for that.

"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 stated.

Dr Singhvi submitted that the Court's approach is constructive. The Court can take lists from the Counsels and decide on that, or the lists can be exchanged amongst us.

Advocate Bhushan stated that a writ petition has been filed challenging the Ministry's notification stating that road expansion projects less than 100 km in length would not require any environmental appraisal. The Bench issued notice and asked ASG Bhati to file a reply and respond to that next week.

Mr Bhushan further stated that there are 2 judgements of this Court where the Court had repeatedly directed formation of an independent Environmental Regulator. Despite those two judgements which are old judgements which are of 2011 and 2014 the government has not set up an environmental regulator, and now the environment appraisal has become a farce.

Bench noted that a case was heard by the Court on Monday which stated that the Wildlife Board has not met for 6 years, and that case should be heard with Bhushan's prayer grievance regarding appointment of the environmental regulator.

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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