“Conservation of nature must be viewed as part of development and not as a factor stultifying development”, the Supreme Court said Thursday, setting up a seven-member expert committee to recommend policy guidelines for cutting of trees for developmental projects.
The committee will be headed by M K Ranjitsinh Jwala, wildlife expert and former Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India.
The order came in a matter pertaining to felling of trees of ages upto 150 years for Road Over Bridges and road widening projects in West Bengal.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and also comprising A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramainan referred to a report submitted to it, which said that about 50 trees had already been felled and another 306 trees are required to be felled.
“As per the Report, many of the trees can be called ‘historical trees’, which have ‘irreplaceable value’ and compensatory afforestation cannot replace trees of this value,” the court said.
Stressing on the need for sustainable development, the bench said “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”.
To calculate “just and fair compensation…for felling of trees…it is…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,” the court said.
This, it added, assumes significance with climate change as a growing national and international concern.
The members of the committee are Arun Singh Rawat, Director General, Indian Council for Forestry Research; Sandeep Tambe (Indian Forest Service), currently working as Professor of Forestry at the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal; Gopal Singh Rawat, former Dean and Director, Wildlife Institute of India; Nilanjan Ghosh, Director, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata; and Pradeep Krishen, environmentalist. Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, is the Member Secretary of the Committee.
The Committee will, among others, “prescribe a mechanism for assessment of both intrinsic and instrumental value of 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”.
“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”, “prescribe the mode of compensation financial and otherwise, the stage of depositing such compensation and the process that governs the computation and recovery” and “specify the manner and mechanism of compensatory afforestation to be carried out using the deposited compensation, consistent with the native ecosystem, habitat and species”, the court said, and asked the Committee to submit its recommendations within four weeks from the date of its first meeting.