The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shield for trees outside forests

Calcutta, April 25: Trees outside forests in the state still have no protection and there is no law to punish people who fell them at will. But if the government goes by a high court directive, that will be a thing of past.

The high court has asked the government to table the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in non-forest areas) Act, 2003, within eight weeks.

A draft law that extends protection to trees on non-forest land across the state was submitted before the green bench today. The draft Act not only envisages protecting standing trees but also serves a caveat on stripping leaves and branches and cutting the trunks of those that have been uprooted.

Any violation of the law will attract a penalty of Rs 1,000 or rigorous imprisonment up to six months, or both.

A tree growing on non-forest land can be felled only if a “competent authority”, to be nominated by the government, scrutinises an application for felling with all due legalities and necessities and issues a permission.

“No permission will be refused if the same constitutes danger to a person or property or if such felling is to remove any obstruction or nuisance or to prevent danger,” the draft Act states.

It adds that for each tree felled, the party carrying out the depletion will have to plant two in its place.

The new law follows newspaper reports on a huge grove felled to make way for a housing complex at Mankundu in Hooghly district in 1999.

The green bench judge then presiding, Justice B.P. Banerjee, passed a suo motu order directing the state government and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board to be involved in the case.

Similar reports of groves of fruit-bearing trees under threat from realtors also came in from Nadia and other districts during the time.

The government and the pollution control board told the bench that there existed no law regarding the felling of trees in areas not protected as reserves or sanctuaries by the forest department.

The bench asked an environment activist, Subhas Dutta, to submit to the court laws in other countries that protected trees.

“I convinced the court by showing relevant sections of the Environment Protection Act, which entails protection of all trees but do not have any penal clause to make it foolproof,” said Dutta.

The court directed the government to make a detailed study and submit a draft of the Act. It took two years for the government to come up with one.

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