The 'true value of a tree, with 100 years of remaining lifespan would be worth ₹72 lakhs', a committee set up by Chief Justice SA Bobde informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday, February 3.
The cost is apart from the benefits a tree would provide give to nature and human beings, including the cost of oxygen it would emit to the atmosphere.
A committee was set up to evaluate the value of a tree after a PIL challenging the West Bengal government's decision to cut 356 trees to construct five railway overbridges (RoBs), on a 59-km stretch on NH-112, that runs from Barasat to Petrapole border, Times of India reported.
The construction is a part of Centre's 'Setu Bharatam' programme and costs around ₹500 crores. The stretch is to be part of the government's 'Go East' policy, which aims to integrate the Indian road network with Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Setu Bharatam programme aims to make national highways free of all the railway crossings by constructing 208 railway over and under bridges across 19 states at the cost of ₹20,800 crores. West Bengal has been sanctioned ₹2,294 for 22 RoBs on NH-112, the media reported.
The committee informed that 50 trees had already been cut, but the remaining 306, many of which hold heritage value, are evaluated at ₹220 crores.
Further, it would require the cutting down 4,036 trees for the widening of the road, valued at ₹3,000 crores. But if the real loss to the environment and humanity over the years were to be taken into account, the value of these 4,000 trees would amount to ₹30,000 crores, the report added.
The bench comprising of CJI Bobde, Justice A.S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian said that if the apex court accepts the committee's report, the governments will go bankrupt. "The calculations need to be rationalised, only then their cost can be built into the project cost," the media quoted the bench as saying.
The court also took note of the committee's report that the environment ministry guidelines exempted environment impact assessment (EIA) of any road of less than 100km span. However, the Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati said that the Centre did not exempt the road projects over small stretches, but left it to the state governments to do the necessary.
The top court asked advocate Prashant Bhushan to provide a draft note on the protocol for calculating the value of trees and the EIA legality. Both cases will be taken up after two weeks.
The committee comprised Soham Pandya, B.K Maji, Nirajita Mitra, N.K Mukhaerjee and Sunita Narain.