Noida Park: SC seeks environment impact of felling trees

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to examine the environmental impact caused by the felling of around 6000 trees at a Park in Noida used by Mayawati government for construction of statues and memorials of Dalit leaders.

A Special Forest Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan sought a response within four weeks from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) about the impact the project on the adjacent bird sanctuary.

"At this stage, we are not on the issue whether the land in question is a forest land or not. At present, we need to know only what is the impact of felling of trees on the environment and adjacent bird sanctuary," the Bench, also comprising Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam, said and posted the matter for further hearing in the second week of July.

The Bench, which was hearing the plea of Uttar Pradesh government for lifting the stay on the construction work, also asked the MOEF to enumerate immediate measures for protection of the environment and the bird sanctuary.

The hearing in the matter commenced in the backdrop of of the affidavit filed by the MOEF that the park land is not covered under the definition of forest and even the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee report suggested the same with a rider that the state government should seek environmental clearance for the Rs 650-crore project on the 33.43 hectare land.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, who is assisting the court as an amicus curaie in the matter, submitted that irrespective of the fact whether the land in question is forest or not, it has to be seen that the plantation done at tax payers' money at the park could be removed without environmental clearance.

"If tax payers money is used for plantation, what are the principles applied for felling around 6000 trees?" he said and gave example of Siri Fort area in Delhi where the felling of trees for construction of a stadium without environmental clearance was criticised by the apex court.

The senior advocate said the role of the Centre was important in the matter as it was sufficiently empowered to act under the Central Environment Protection Act despite the fact that the issue was not covered under the Forest Act.

He said the issue of buffer zone, in which the bird sanctuary falls, cannot be ignored and the environment impact of cutting trees on it have to be analysed.

Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner opposing the project, said it has to be determined whether forest land has been used for no-forest purpose without the permission of the centre and the apex court. Bhushan submitted the environment clearance becomes more important as the project land is within the buffer zone.

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising, appearing for the MOEF, said government was willing to analyse the impact of felling trees on the environment.

She, however, said the land did not come under the category of forest land as the species of trees were not akin to forest trees.

The ASG said since the project was on around 30b hectares, it did not require environmental clearance.

Senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for Uttar Pradesh government, said the land was only for recreation and the project for which 70 per cent work has been completed is in public interest.

He said crores of rupees had been spent on the project of public interest where there will be nothing which would pollute the environment as the park has been developed in a modern way.

He said the affidavit of the Centre and the reports of the CEC were in favour of the state government and the court should lift the stay on construction work at the earliest.

Uttar Pradesh government has claimed it was losing Rs three lakh everyday on the project and the stay on construction at the site be lifted.

The senior advocate said not only all work has been stopped since October 9 last but the structures exposed and the maintenance cost has been increasing everyday.