Govt's definition of trees baffles SC

Apex court seeks to know how small saplings are counted as trees

The Supreme Court on Monday stopped short of passing an order on a plea made by Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCI) to allow felling of 4,313 trees on the 76-km Taj Trapezium zone stretch as it pondered over the Forest Department’s definition of trees and sought more clarity.

The DFCCI sought clearance for the tree felling for executing the first phase of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor for Railways.

A bench of Justices D K Jain and Madan B Lokur pondered over the definition of trees and then asked how the Forest department enumerated plants “having one to two inch diameter” as trees.

“You count saplings as a tree. Would you tell us whether saplings can be included under the definition of trees under the Forest Act,” the bench asked.

The query was significant as the DFCCI proposed to pay Uttar Pradesh Forest department Rs 100 for cutting one tree and Rs 200 for planting two trees.

The court came across the peculiar manner of counting trees while dictating order on the application. It deferred the matter to Friday seeking more clarity on the definition of trees.
The apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), meanwhile, came in support of the proposal to fell trees saying that the project was in public interest and the DFCCI had offered to undertake plantation of 25,000 trees.

It, however, imposed the condition that statutory clearance for diversion of forest land would be undertaken under the Forest (Conservation) Act, while the net present value and compensatory charges payable for such land would be deposited with ad-hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).

“The 76-km alignment of the Taj Trapezium does not involve any wildlife sanctuary or national park. However, the project involved 4.039 ha of reserve forest in villages Sokhipur and Datuaji in Firozabad district and 1.252 ha of protected forest in Agra and Hathras districts. The proposal for diversion of 5.291 ha of forest land is being processed by the UP Forest Department for which forest clearance under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 will be obtained from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests,” the CEC report said.

The report was filed following a direction by the apex court on September 7.
The DFCCI coming under the Railway Ministry is constructing the eastern freight corridor from Dankuni in West Bengal to Ludhiana in Punjab.

“Once completed, the dedicated freight corridors will enable Indian Railways to meet customer and market need better. It will also decongest the existing rail network, ensure better management of passenger traffic and help in improving maintenance of tracks and safety aspects,” the CEC said.

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