In a welcoming move, the Calcutta High Court ordered a real estate group to pay ₹ 40 crore within 15 days and plant 100 trees to drop prosecution for illegal deforestation. Reportedly, the group illegally fell 62 trees on a plot in Russel Street, a land they had acquired to build a seven-star hotel. Commenting on this, the court has said that the incident has "left a permanent wound on the environment."
The group had claimed that the trees were felled to comply with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) notice to remove standing water gathered in the property, thereby preventing disease-causing insects. However, the HC order dismissed the claim, stating that cutting trees has nothing to do with stagnant water, reported The Times of India.
Claim Of Petitioners
Although the order was passed on July 26, the case in discussion dates back to February 2017. The case was a plea to drop charges of illegal felling of the trees. It was based on the ground that this was a first-time offence. The group also noted that it would plant twice the number of trees felled to compensate.
Justice Rajasekhar Mantha stated that the petitioner's request seemed appealing, more so because punishing the petitioner by imprisoning them for a limited period would not bring the tress back to life. However, compensating the forest department or state or society would be a fair "penalty, penance, and retribution". The money obtained from the compensation can build better vigilance against illegal tree felling and develop the environment in general.
West Bengal Trees Act
The act under which the prosecution had been initiated is Section 11(1) of The West Bengal Trees (Protection And Conservation In Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006. Under this act, a proven offender can be fined ₹ 5,000 or can suffer imprisonment for one year, or both. In compensation, till the required number of trees are replanted, the offender can be fined ₹ 50 every day. Arguing for the state was lawyer Manoj Malhotra. He noted that this offence is compoundable.
Reiterating the same, the court has said that if the due amount is not paid within the stipulated time, the offences would be compounded. Even after the fine payment, the real estate group must comply with all the laws to further develop the property.
Growing Instances Of Pro-Environment Verdicts
However, this is not the first time an Indian court has held up a real estate group and passed a pro-environment judgement. Such verdicts have been growing since the past decade, especially after establishing the National Green Tribunal (NGT). For example, the landmark judgment of the NGT in the case of Sunil Kumar Chugh v. Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi & Others had set a strong example in the penalisation of the guilty and rejecting the illegal permissions granted to them.