The green bench of Calcutta High Court on Friday came down heavily on the state government for its failure to enact a law to protect trees in the non-forest areas since 1999. The green bench in 1999 had directed the state government to make a law to protect the trees, particularly in Calcutta and its suburbs.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, directed the government to prepare a draft legislation on the protection of trees in urban areas within 15 days and to make it ready to be tabled in the Assembly in its next session.
On Friday, when the matter relating to felling of trees came up for hearing before the division bench, the government’s counsel informed the court that the new law could not be enacted because the environment department had not submitted its opinion yet. The court, in its order, said: “It is a matter of shame that the government has no control over one of its departments. The new law should be made within 14 days without the opinion of the environment wing.”
In 1998, then presiding green bench judge B.P. Banerjee, after going through a report in The Telegraph on the merciless felling of trees in a Calcutta locality, registered a suo motu case. The judge had observed that a law should be enacted to protect trees in the urban areas, as no such law existed in West Bengal. The existing law is applicable in the forest areas only.
Few months after the observation, the green bench, presided over by Justice S.B. Sinha, had directed the government to enact a law in this regard. Meanwhile, many other petitions were filed before the division bench, alleging rampant cutting and trimming of trees in the city.
Some residents of Park Circus and Southern Avenue had complained that few fully-grown trees were uprooted by government-appointed agencies to construct flyovers. But the court could not interfere in the matter, as there was no law to protect trees in the urban areas.
On Friday, during the hearing, environment activist Subhas Dutta alleged that the government was merely stalling the enactment of law. He demanded that the court take serious view of the matter and direct the government to take immediate steps.
Manik Das, lawyer representing the state pollution control board, also suggested that the new law be enacted as early as possible.