The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to examine the environmental impact caused by the felling of around 6000 trees at a park in Noida used by the Mayawati government for construction of statues and memorials of Dalit leaders.
A Special Forest Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan sought a response within four weeks from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) about the impact the project on the adjacent bird sanctuary.
"At this stage, we are not on the issue whether the land in question is a forest land or not. At present, we need to know only what is the impact of felling of trees on the environment and adjacent bird sanctuary," the Bench, also comprising Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam, said and posted the matter for further hearing in the second week of July.
The Bench, which was hearing the plea of Uttar Pradesh government for lifting the stay on the construction work, also asked the MOEF to enumerate immediate measures for protection of the environment and the bird sanctuary.
The hearing in the matter commenced in the backdrop of the affidavit filed by MOEF which stated that the park land is not covered under the definition of forest. Even the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee report suggested the same stating that the state government should seek environmental clearance for the Rs 650-crore project on the 33.43 hectares land.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, submitted that irrespective of the fact whether the land in question is forest or not, it has to be seen if the plantation done using tax payers' money at the park can be removed without environmental clearance.
"If tax payers money is used for plantation, what are the principles applied for felling around 6000 trees?" he said and gave examples of Siri Fort area in Delhi where the felling of trees for construction of a stadium without environmental clearance was criticised by the apex court.
Salve said that the role of the Centre was important in the matter as it was sufficiently empowered to act under the Central Environment Protection Act, 1986 despite the fact that the issue was not covered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
He said the issue of buffer zone, in which the bird sanctuary falls, cannot be ignored and the environment impact of cutting trees on it have to be analysed.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner opposing the project, said it has to be determined whether forest land has been used for no-forest purpose without the permission of the centre and the apex court.