New Delhi [India], December 2 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Uttar Pradesh government to evaluate the value of trees, proposed for felling for the Krishna Goverdhan road project in Mathura, by taking into account the cost of oxygen the trees would have given to the nature in their lifetime.
A bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, asked the Uttar Pradesh government the nature and number of thousands of trees proposed to be felled and to evaluate their age and oxygen-producing capacity.
The bench, seeking a report on the matter within two weeks, observed that straight roads capable of high-speed traffic on highways cause innumerable deaths. The apex court asked the state if roads can be made in a 'zig-zag' fashion to save trees and save lives in the process.
The bench was hearing an application filed by the Uttar Pradesh Public Works Department (UP PWD) for cutting down thousands of trees for the road project, for which the Central Empowered Committee has already given clearance.
"It is clear that only effect if the trees are retained would be roads may not be straight and therefore capable of high-speed traffic. Such an effect may not be necessarily deleterious," the bench observed.
In its order, the bench also noted that UP PWD assured that they will compensate by planting the same trees in another area so that there is no loss to the environment in general.
CJI Bobde said it not possible for the court to accept compensation in merely arithmetical terms, especially when there is no statement forthcoming from Uttar Pradesh or the PWD as to the nature of trees, which is classified as shrubs or large trees.
"Moreover, there is no information available regarding the age of the trees since it is obvious that there cannot be compensatory reforestation if a 100-year-old tree is cut down," the bench said.
The court noted that Aishwarya Bhati, Additional Solicitor General appearing for Uttar Pradesh, did not make a statement as to which forest department intends to evaluate trees in question.
"Clearly they cannot do so in terms of timber but must adopt a method of evaluation which takes into account oxygen-producing capacity of the particular tree over the remaining life span assuming it may be cut now," the bench remarked.
Senior advocate and amicus curiae ADN Rao informed the court about the 'Net Present Value' method for the valuation of trees, after which the bench asked the Uttar Pradesh government to look into it.
"Uttar Pradesh government to ascertain the total number of trees to be felled for building roads. It is clear that the only effect if the trees are retained would be roads may not be straight and therefore capable of high-speed traffic. Such an effect may not be necessarily deleterious," the bench said in its order passed today.
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government also sought the Supreme Court's permission to set up a leather park for the leather industry near Agra. The bench headed by CJI Bobde granted three months' time given to petitioner and environmentalist MC Mehta to inspect the site of the proposed leather park near Agra and file a report.
The bench said MC Mehta, who is the main petitioner and amicus curiae in the case, has not been able to inspect the area and file his report on this due to COVID-19.
Counsel appearing for Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Corporation submitted that if the delay is due to logistical issues of travel, the government can facilitate Mehta in terms of transportation and stay. Chief Justice said Mehta has not raised such an issue.
The bench was hearing a plea of environmentalist MC Mehta pertaining to the protection of the Taj Mahal, the fragile eco-system surrounding it, and construction in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), an "eco-sensitive area" having four world heritage sites including the Taj Mahal.
The TTZ, established on December 30, 1996 to protect the Taj Mahal from pollution through an order of the Supreme Court, is a 10,400 sq km area spread across the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. (ANI)