Article in Vijay Times by Vicky Nanjappa
its order WA 8178/ 1999, dated 29-07-2003, a Division Bench
of the Karnataka High Court clamped down on the issue of mass destruction of
trees and directed a total stoppage to this activity except in a few cases where
it is totally necessary.
In a strongly worded judgment, the Bench comprising, Justice M F Saldanha and Justice M S Rajendra Prasad pulled up the state government and public authorities for the wanton destruction of green cover in various parts of the state. The Bench was dealing with an appeal civil appeal wherein, the Mysore Urban development Authorities desired to cut 124 trees for road widening purposes.
The Judges directed the Chief Secretary to the government of Karnataka to follow the guidelines issued by the High Court in this regard. For the first time in the country, the court has carved out an entirely new formula whereby the replacement process namely the planting of new trees in place of the old ones which may have to be removed has to be done before the existing trees are cut or destroyed.
Pertaining to the case regarding the Mysore Urban development Authority, the judges observed that there is something of importance, which arises in this case, which is of immense public importance particularly in the light of many modifications that the government and the public authorities are required to take from time to time in relation to widening of roads and construction of highways and express ways. "This arises directly in the context of the public horror and distress that is being expressed every day in words because of the felling of over 8900 trees on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway and 18900 trees in and around Bangalore that have directly inteferred with the rainfall," the bench stated.
The court pointed out that tree cutting became necessary because of construction
of new highways. The Bench stated, " while we are consious of the fact
that this is sometimes inevitable, we find that in the present context, not
even the least effort has been made to sace the trees as is done in other parts
of the world. There may be situations in which this is just not possible and
the removal of trees becomes unavoidable, but that must be kept to the minimum.
In such a background, we are of the view that since every assurance and undertaking
given to the given to the court hitherto by the state government and public
authorities that the trees will be replaced has not been honoured, that it will
be eminently desirable that at the planning stage itsel the replacement should
be done before the exsisting trees are cut."
The bench further added that it is not difficult to position and plant appropriate saplings right in the beggining and if this formula is enforced , the default situation of the trees being butchered and he authorities destroying them without replacing them will not arise. In this view, he judges stated, " with a view of ensuring that the saplings are not damaged or destroyed a protective grill or mesh will have to be embedded in such a way that it cannot be removed and the responsibility will have to devlove on the department concerned to maintain these saplings for atleast two years until they grow into healthy young trees."
The court further stated that in the recent past the government and the public authorities have ben the principal destroyers of tree cover and there have been numerous instances where destruction has been totally avoidable. "Flyovers have been discarded by every civilised country for the last 30 years in favour of underground passages, but our authorities still use half a century old ideas and have so far destroyed over 4000 trees in Bangalore city alone," the Bench also stated.
High Court Order
& MSRJ: / 24.7.03 Writ Appeal 8178/99
The learned Government Advocate has filed the affidavit of the Chief Secretary to Government and we need to record that we appreciate the fact that the State Government has respected and accepted the suggestions put forward by this court with regard to the general preservation and rejuvenation of the green cover in this state. What is even better is the fact that the Chief Secretary has also stated that the necessary amendments will be made in the rules, statutes etc. And furthermore that necessary instructions will be issued to the various authorities, and that if necessary even through executive action that the Directions of this Court will be implemented. This is a step very much in the right direction and we need to record that it also shows that the government is not only acting responsibly but that it is also concerned about the vital issues that have been indicated by us. In consonance with this, it will only be in the fitness of things since this is part of the year conducive to put down the saplings which is normally done, that the state government forthwith issues necessary instructions to the various departments who are incharge of the different newly constructed highways around Bangalore city and the projects that are under way particularly the Bangalore –Mysore road where extensive tree felling has taken place recently which has resulted in a very strong public protest. The government shall issue immediate instructions to the Highways and Forest departments that within the next one week immediate steps be undertaken on a war footing to replace all the trees through properly selected saplings along with necessary safeguards so that all of these can take root during the ensuing monsoon and can then be looked after suitably during the period that follows it. This is an immediate and necessary step and we would like the government to report compliance on the next date of hearing in keeping with the Supreme Court Orders, the replacements will have to be in the ratio of 2 new trees for each one removed. We shall personally visit and inspect all the highways in question and penal action will follow against the officers if there is non-compliance in any single area. Also there will have to be a complete stop to tree felling until the replacements come first.
2. Coming to the present case, the respondents’ learned Advocate has filed an affidavit in which he has put forward suggestion that a small committee be set up consisting of the officers of the Government of India and the State Government representing the departments such as National Highways, P.W.D., Forest Department, Revenue Department etc, and that this committee should be requested to examine the various aspects and suggest a viable solution. Learned government Advocate submitted that the setting up of committees invariably takes time and secondly, that the committees have their own limitations and the reports / suggestions of the committees will invariably result in another debate rendering the whole matter inconclusive. His submission was that even if it is a question of having to do a local inspection that the court with the assistance of the learned Advocates and the officers could undertake this task, which would help in expediting the matter. We do appreciate his suggestions, which we consider to be more practical and we have accordingly indicated to the learned Advocates that the two learned Judges will ensure that they come to Mysore and that they will carry out a local inspection at 11 A.M. on 6-8-03. The officers of the concerned departments should remain present. It would be vary necessary that the learned government Advocate and the learned Advocate representing the appellants are present because this is an official inspection and their presence is absolutely necessary. They, in turn, will ensure that all the concerned officers are also present at that time because the entire operation is not likely to take more than one hour.
3. This appeal be relisted for further hearing on 12.8.03 at 2.30 P.M. Copy of this order to be furnished to learned Advocates forthwith. O.A. to forward the came to the Chief Secretary.