Calcutta, June 23: A tree isn’t a tree if it’s not more than four metres high. It can be felled if it’s an “obstruction or nuisance” and hacked if the authorities don’t respond within a month of being petitioned.
Welcome to a Bengal that appears headed for an almost tree-less future a few days from now.
The draft of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2003 — likely to be tabled once the Assembly session begins on Thursday — has a few clauses that green activists believe would harm the very environment the proposed Act is supposed to protect.
Former green bench judge of Calcutta High Court Justice B.P. Banerjee is convinced that the draft, if passed as it is, can ring the death knell for trees in cities and villages across the state. “The draft is a sham,” he said today. “This is an act of a system that encourages the murder of the very attributes it seeks to protect.”
“It is very unfortunate,” said advocate Gitanath Ganguly, the high court-appointed special officer on sound pollution. “The government appears to be guided by the concerns of the promoter-builder lobby that is behind the destruction of greenery in areas which fall outside the regulated forest zones.”
Environmentalist Mukuta Mukherjee agreed. “If this is the attitude of the state to trees, I shudder to think about the environment we are going to leave for future generations,” she said.
One of the clauses in the draft allows indiscriminate felling of trees if the authorities do not reply within a month of being petitioned. Another gives the go-ahead to hack a tree if it is found to be an “obstruction or nuisance… or constitutes danger to person or property”.
If the clause that disqualifies trees on grounds of height is taken into account, many trees in and around Calcutta and other densely peopled areas are as good as dead, environmentalists feel.
The state government, however, feels that the fears of the green lobby are misplaced.
“The draft has been put into place after going through all the suggestions given to the department of forests by all other departments concerned with the protection of the environment,” principal secretary, department of forests, . Ramji said.