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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

High Court pulls up Goa authorities for lax compliance with Tree Act

The court was hearing a petition filed by an NGO, Living Heritage Foundation (LHF), urging the court to direct the Tree Authorities in Goa to perform their duties.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: April 5, 2022 1:04:18 pm
In July 2021, the court had disposed of the petition while passing directions to the state government to meet the provisions prescribed under the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984 (the Tree Act).

The Bombay High Court at Goa has said that the Tree Authorities in the state (Goa) had not sufficiently complied with the provisions of Section 7 (i) of the Tree Act requiring to undertake a critical study of the proposals for development works of various government departments and private bodies with regard to saving trees and planting more wherever possible.

“In a small state like Goa, the felling of trees is a serious concern, and therefore the mandate in Section 7(i). This mandate, now reinforced by our directions, cannot be diluted in this manner,” the court said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by an NGO, Living Heritage Foundation (LHF), urging the court to direct the Tree Authorities in Goa to perform their duties. In July 2021, the court had disposed of the petition while passing several directions to the state government to meet the provisions prescribed under the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984 (the Tree Act). The state government was also asked to file a compliance report.

LHF’s lawyer Sreeja Chakraborty pointed out that the state government has not complied with many of the court directions. The government’s compliance report stated that to minimise the tree felling, the Tree Authorities had directed the Forest Department that all proposals involving felling of more than 500 trees must be placed before them for a critical analysis.

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Justices M S Sonak and R N Laddha, however, wrote in their March 22 order that the limit of 500 trees, which finds no statutory basis, imposed by the Tree Authorities on themselves “hardly amounts to compliance with the provisions of Section 7(i) of the Trees Act”.

“By this self-imposed limit, the Tree Authorities, it appears, propose not to comply with the mandate of Section 7(i) of the Trees Act. By this self imposed limit, the Tree authorities wish to avoid compliance unless there is a proposal involving the felling of more than 500 trees,” the judges observed.

The court also asked the state government to take the necessary steps to ensure “effective compliance” of its directions and asked the Tree Authorities in both North and South Goa and the secretary concerned to inform all authorities involved in granting approvals for tree felling about its directions.

“Tree Authorities cannot shirk the responsibility of complying with the mandate of Section 7(i) by simply imposing this limit of 500 trees or refuse to undertake critical study and give its recommendations on a specious plea that less than 500 trees are to be felled for the project,” the court said.

The court also observed that there was no compliance of its direction to carry out a tree census in the state. In its July 8 , 2021 order, the court had directed that the tree census be carried out in a year. So far, the judges said, no census was carried out and “only some files have been moved from one table to the other”.

The compliance report of the state government showed that although no tree census was carried out, the Tree Authorities were of the view that a census be carried out in the municipal limits of Panaji and Margao. The court, however, said that the Trees Act and the directions of the court both required the census to be carried out in the entire state except in forests under the state Forest Department.

“Despite both the statutory and the judicial mandate, the Tree Authorities cannot, at this belated stage express the view that the process will first be carried out only in the two towns of Panaji and Margao. Further, except for the expression of such a view, no such census has been carried out even in Panaji and Margao to date. Thus, it is quite clear that there is no compliance…and instead, some groundwork is being laid to avoid compliances.”

Directing the member secretary of the two Tree Authorities to file another compliance report by April 25, the court also observed: “If we find that there is no serious work to commence and complete the census work with the expedition required of them (Tree Authorities), we will be constrained to consider whether any action is warranted in exercise of our contempt jurisdiction,” the judges wrote in their order.

The case will be heard on April 27.

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