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Supreme Court of India
Chandrabhal Singh vs Union Of India on 25 March, 2021
Author: Hon’Ble The Justice
Bench: [ A Bopanna], [ Bobde]
1 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 25047 OF 2018 ASSOCIATION FOR PROTECTION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS & ANR. ...PETITIONER(S) VERSUS THE STATE OF WEST BENGAL & ORS. ...RESPONDENT(S) O R D E R
The issue before us in SLP (C) 25047/2018 is whether we
should allow the Government of West Bengal to fell the trees,
in order to construct Road Over Bridges (ROBs) and widen the
Roads. We are told that ROBs are necessitated to prevent
accidents, which are several, over the past few years. This is
the human/development concern that has been expressed by the
State of West Bengal.
It is, however, undisputed that the ROBs can only be
constructed after felling of several trees, ages of which are
said to be up to 150 years. As per the Report of the Expert
Committee submitted before us, primarily, about 50 trees have
already been felled and potentially another 306 trees are 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.
It is common ground that the trees cannot be transplanted at
Signature Not Verified
Madhu Bala some other location.
Digitally signed by
The right to clean and healthy environment has been
recognized as the fundamental right under Article 21 of the
Constitution of India. Article 48-A imposes duty upon the State
to endeavour to protect and improve the environment and
safeguard the forests and wildlife of the Country. In addition
to this, India is also a party to international treaties,
agreements and conferences and has committed itself to
sustainable development and growth. This legal framework
indicates that sustainable development must remain at the heart
of any development policy implemented by the state. 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. In
other words, conservation of nature must be viewed as part of
development and not as a factor stultifying development.
One of the moot questions often involved wherever there
is need to fell trees to develop a project is how just and fair
compensation can be calculated for felling of trees by any
authority or organisation which proposes such felling. We have
no doubt that such compensation should be calculated and paid
as a part of the project cost of the project which necessitates
the felling of trees and such compensation must be utilized in
an expert manner to create a better environment and, most
importantly, increase afforestation. It is, therefore,
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.
We note that the issue assumes significance from the
perspective of climate change as a growing national and
international concern. The pivotal policy document in India on
climate change is the National Action Plan on Climate Change
(NAPCC) formulated by Union Government in 2008, which
recognizes that the country is committed to increasing tree
cover from 23% to 33%. Under the Paris Agreement, India has
committed itself to Nationally Determined Contributions in
2015, wherein one of the stated objectives is to create an
additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2
equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
In view of the aforesaid concept, based upon the
suggestions of the parties before us, we constitute an expert
committee of the following:
(a) Dr. MK Ranjitsinh Jhala, wildlife expert and
former Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India – Chairman
of the Committee;
(b) Sri. Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of
Environment, Forests and Climate Change- Member Secretary
of the Committee;
(c) Sri. Arun Singh Rawat, DG, Indian Council for
(d) Prof. Sandeep Tambe, (Indian Forest Service),
currently working as Professor of Forestry at the Indian
Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal- Member;
(e) Sri. Gopal Singh Rawat, former Dean and Director,
Wildlife Institute of India- Member;
(f) Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Director, Observer Research
Foundation, Kolkata, an expert in ecological
economics- Member and
(g) Sri. Pradeep Krishen, Environmentalist- Member.
The Committee shall discuss and recommend on the
(a) Develop a set of scientific and policy guidelines
that shall govern decision making with respect to cutting
of trees for developmental projects.
(b) These guidelines may specify the species of trees
in categories based upon their environmental values
considering the age and girth of the trees etc.
(c) The guidelines may provide special treatment for
geographical area or eco-sensitive area, they may
identify areas which need to be regulated and even
identify a minimum threshold beyond which the guidelines
(d) The guidelines shall 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.
(e) 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.
(f) The guidelines shall also prescribe the mode of
compensation financial and otherwise, the stage of
depositing such compensation and the process that governs
the computation and recovery. In this regard, the
committee may consider the existing regulatory framework
regarding calculation of Net Present Value (NPV) and may
suggest necessary modification.
(g) In addition, the guidelines shall also specify the
manner and mechanism of compensatory afforestation to be
carried out using the deposited compensation, consistent
with the native ecosystem, habitat and species.
(h) The Committee may consider the need for any
permanent expert body and its proposed structural form.
(i) Any other issue incidental to the aforesaid
We direct the Committee to file its recommendations
within four weeks from the date of its first meeting.
The Union of India, through the Member Secretary of the
Committee, is directed to ensure that all administrative
facilities are provided to the Committee including functioning
office space, appropriate secretarial assistance and other
infrastructure. He shall also ensure that all
information/statistics necessary for the deliberations of the
Committee are made available. Further, he shall ensure that the
necessary arrangements are made for the travel and
boarding/lodging of the Committee members.
We appoint Sri. K Parameshwar, Advocate as amicus curiae
to assist the Court on all the issues raised in the present
batch of petitions. The Registry is directed to send a copy of
the paperbooks and records to Sri. K Parameshwar. The amicus
shall also assist the committee constituted above, on the legal
aspects involved in framing and institutionalising the
guidelines it proposes.
List the matter after four weeks.
[ A.S. BOPANNA] NEW DELHI ....................J. 25TH MARCH, 2021 [V. RAMASUBRAMANIAN]