Bowing to pressure from environmentalists and legal experts, the state government has decided to shelve the proposed West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act 2003 and send it to a review committee to “scrap several portions” from the draft before it is tabled in the Assembly.
Barely four days after The Telegraph reported how the government was planning to pass the “promoter-friendly” bill, state forest minister Jogesh Barman said he had “no idea about the flaws in the draft” and therefore had decided to send it for a review.
“I did not see the draft initially, but once I read about it (in the newspaper) I took a look and decided that the draft could not be tabled in the Assembly without omitting some questionable clauses. We hope to be ready with the fresh draft soon,” Barman added.
The objectionable clauses in the draft include indiscriminate felling of trees if the authorities do not respond to an appeal within a month, while another clause allows a tree to be hacked if it causes “obstruction or nuisance… or constitutes danger to person or property”. Another objectionable clause states that all trees which are less than four metres in height cannot be termed as a tree and can be felled.
Two more clauses — the first imposes a paltry fine of Rs 5,000 on illegally hacking a tree and then allowing the guilty to take the wood, and the second allows a person to cut a tree on his premises if it causes serious obstructions — will be omitted from the final draft.
Former green bench judge of Calcutta High Court Justice B.P. Banerjee and executive chairman of Legal Aids Services of West Bengal (LASWEB) Gitanath Ganguly described the draft as a “sham”.
They were alerted by environmentalist Mukuta Mukherjee, who got to know of the new draft on non-forest areas being processed by the government.
Environmentalists and green activists believe that a strong promoter lobby is behind the implementation of the act, which would give them permission to hack all trees that come in their way.
Welcoming the government’s shift in stand, Ganguly said a judicial authority must be constituted by the government to oversee felling of trees. “This is one way to ensure that there is no indiscriminate chopping of trees in the city which has turned into a concrete jungle, courtesy the builders’ lobby,” said Ganguly.