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OVERVIEW

In a case involving the felling of trees for the 'Setu Bharatam' project in West Bengal, a three-judge Bench of the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian suggested that passing an order which would lay down principles for the evaluation of the trees fell for such project. Subsequently, the matter would be entrusted before a committee for framing requisite guidelines, lest the Court would lose the crux of such matter in question.

CJI Bobde, who is scheduled to retire this year in the month of April, stated with regard to the previous order of the Court for forming such Committee that "We remember that we were talk about forming of Committee, any Committee formed will not submit its report before me".  

The Bench recollected its preference of candidature for such Committee, which was “a very senior person and an expert, Mr Ranjit Singh, to head the Committee.” 

SG Mehta's suggestions were sought regarding some other candidates who could be the part of such committee, who promised to consult such other persons and provide with the names at the earliest. 

Dr AM Singhvi, who was appearing for the State of West Bengal, brought to the notice of the Court of his submission of prospective names, subject to the consideration of the Court. 

BACKGROUND

The Supreme Court of India has recently observed that a Committee is to be formed in order to economically evaluate heritage trees and such report of evaluation is to be submitted in the month of April. The Centre has been instructed to provide the requisite facilities to the Committee including place and secretarial assistance. 

Adv AM Singhvi submitted that the formation of such committee is a matter for experts, and those are central government schemes implemented by State government.

ASG Aishwarya Bhati submitted that an affidavit had already been filed by the Union of India with suggestions for such names, which included the Director General of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, and other specialised experts.

"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", the Additional Solicitor General of India commented.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan has suggested the names of Mr. Pradeep Krishan and Mr. UV Singh, who was principal conservator of forest appointed by SC in Karnataka mining. He was.

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.


FURTHER DETAILS

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

The Bench had, on an earlier occasion on 18th February, had stated regarding the instant case, that "Somebody has to assess 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.

The Court said that it would find it more to its preference if the government explored other alternatives for building for roads which would not involve the felling or uprooting of trees in order to clear space for such construction. To that effect, an expert committee is to be formed who would formulate such guidelines. The committee would also be entrusted with the responsibility of evaluating the felled trees for the purposes of afforestation compensation. Such value is not to be determined on the monetary value of the wood, but on the contribution of such trees to the environment.

CONCLUSION 

The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court heard the petitions filed by Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and Arpita Saha, who challenged the felling of trees for the "Setu Bharatam" project. A committee appointed by the Court has ascertained and estimated the value of the estimated trees which were to be felled for the project to be a whooping Rs 2.2 billion. 

The West Bengal Government objected to such valuation and termed it as "hypothetical" and "highly speculative".

The Chief Justice of India remarked in this regard that since the trees contribute to the environment to a huge extent, by providing with oxygen, prevention of soil erosion, etc., so the felling of trees should be avoided at all costs. In case such felling cannot be avoided, an afforestation compensation should be determined.

WHAT IS YOUR OPINION REGARDING THE FORMATION OF SUCH COMMITTEE FOR ESTIMATING AFFORESTATION COMPENSATION? DO YOU THINK SUCH COMPENSATION WOULD DISCOURAGE DEFORESTATION? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
 

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