A series of road expansion plans proposed by the Yogi Adityanath government soon after it came to power in 2017 faced environmental hurdle in the Supreme Court on Wednesday with questions being raised over the felling of 2,940 trees for one out of the six road-widening projects to facilitate pilgrimage to Govardhan Hill, associated with Lord Krishna.
On behalf of the Uttar Pradesh Public Works Department, senior advocate S Wasim Ahmed Qadri presented the court with the application for felling of trees moved in 2017, pending in court for the past three years. Incidentally, the court-appointed expert body, central empowered committee (CEC), had granted clearance for the tree felling in January this year.
Taking up the matter, a three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde wished to know whether the value of compensation for felling the trees took into account the oxygen producing capacity of the trees considering its age, species and feasibility of felling it.
Qadri informed the court that the CEC had examined all aspects and granted clearance for the project. He stated that the state calculated a compensation of Rs 141.4 crore for one of the road widening projects from Ding to Mathura to be paid to the forest department and will replant the same species and number of trees in a separate area.
“We do not want this argument of development versus environment…..You can’t fell 2,940 trees in the name of Lord Krishna,” said the bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian. They asked the State if it had examined the possibility of saving some of these trees. “Why can’t this road take a turn around the trees. If you make road winding around the trees, traffic will be slow and this will save human lives as accidents will reduce,” the bench said.
Advocate ADN Rao, appearing for the CEC, pointed out that when trees are cut in forest land, the net present value (NPV) to be paid for felling of trees takes into account their remaining lifespan. Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bharti, who appeared for the UP government, sought time to take instructions on how the value of Rs 141 crore was arrived at. The court posted the matter after four weeks asking ASG Bharti to consider suggesting the state to apply the NPV formula and even consider feasibility of saving some trees from felling.