HC stops tree felling till June 2, says need to maintain ecological balance

Updated on May 20, 2022 12:20 AM IST

He noted that 29,946 trees were cut in the city over the past three years, an average of 27 a day.

29,946 trees were cut in the city over the past three years. (HT Archive)
29,946 trees were cut in the city over the past three years. (HT Archive)

Noting that a tree was cut every hour in the national capital over the past three years, the Delhi high court on Thursday directed that no trees will be felled in the city till June 2, adding that the Capital can’t have the luxury to permit such “large-scale of denudation of trees” due to the rampant air pollution.

Justice Najmi Waziri, while hearing a contempt plea against the concretisation of trees in east Delhi’s Vikas Marg area, said there was an urgent need to “mitigate” air pollution for the present and future generations, while asserting that the only way to achieve this is by not cutting any further trees in the city.

He noted that 29,946 trees were cut in the city over the past three years, an average of 27 a day.

The court also noted that there is nothing to show that 16,456, reportedly transplanted trees have survived, adding that there is also no mention about the compensatory plantation. According to state government rules, 10 trees should be planted for each one felled.

“It would, therefore be in the fitness of things, public interest as well as for the sake of the environment, for present and future generations, that tree felling in Delhi is not permitted till the next date so as to ensure that feeling is done only when it is fully assured by the applicant that the trees would be at least transplanted. Surely there is no other way to mitigate the daily ecological and environmental degradation in the city,” the judge said in a verbal order.

Questioning the city government’s forest department on the 2,329 trees permitted to be cut in the central forest division over the past year, the court wondered how the forest department considers that “Delhi has the luxury to let go of each of these trees, which were obviously some years old”.

“Ex-facie it is evident that the large-scale denudation of trees only worsens the ecological balance in the city,” the court said.

The contempt plea was filed by Neeraj Sharma, represented by advocate Aditya N Prasad.

Last month, the court expressed its concern over the felling of fully grown trees and said it would be logical and prudent to transplant such trees instead of cutting them down, and the “self-defeating exercise” by the Delhi government’s forest department “needs to be arrested at the earliest.

“The court had then noted the petitioner’s claim that a tree is felled every hour in Delhi under official sanction and thus sought information from the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) on the number of trees that were permitted to be cut down in the last three year.

The court emphasised the importance of even a solitary tree in a neighborhood and said that compensatory afforestation, which is a “geographically distant and nascent compensatory plantation can hardly be of any respite or actual compensation”, and that it would be appropriate that tree officers give due consideration to transplantation of each tree which is sought to be cut before granting any further permissions.

On Thursday, the court asked authorities to create prominent links online for people who wish to intimate about the victimization or felling of trees. It said that sufficient facilities should be made for uploading photographs of the alleged damaged tree as they may support the intimation.

Justice Waziri said that “citizens of society have to be involved in maintaining the green lungs of the city”.

“You don’t apply your mind while cutting trees. Do you realize how much time it takes for a tree to be fully grown… Where is the community participation? You have to involve people and join hands to protect the environment. An officer sitting in a room is giving permission for cutting the trees,” the judge said.

It asked the authorities to give a report with photographs to show how the over 16,000 compensatory plantation have survived.

The matter would be heard on June 2.

In September 2018, HT had reported that on average, one tree has been felled in Delhi every hour over the past 13 years, according to data shared by the city government on its website following directions from the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Delhi high court.

The disclosure came amid concerns over the proposed felling of thousands of more trees to make way for new neighbourhoods, HT reported at that time. The data showed that from 2005 to February 2018, a total of 112,169 trees have been cut — an average of 24 per day.

In June 2018, a division bench of the Delhi high court had also halted the further cutting of trees in the city while hearing a PIL seeking to halt the construction of the seven redevelopment projects on the account of axing of over 16,500 trees.

However, the high court later modified its order in September 2018 and allowed cutting of trees for construction projects which are being redeveloped to house government employees.

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