Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court has directed a real estate group to pay Rs 40 crore within 15 days and plant 100 trees in order to drop prosecution for illegally felling 62 trees on a plot on Russell Street — in the heart of the city — acquired by the group to build a seven-star hotel, commenting that it had left a “left a permanent wound on the environment.”
The order, passed on July 26 in a case dating back to February 2017, was passed on a plea to drop charges of illegal tree-felling on the grounds that this was a first-time offence and that the group would plant double the number of trees felled as compensation.
In his three-page order, Justice Rajasekhar Mantha commented that although the “entreaties made by the petitioner appear to be attractive… considering the fact that punishing the writ petitioner with limited amount of imprisonment under the 2006 act would not bring back the trees, compensating the state/forest department/society would be just and fair penalty, penance and retribution. The compensation shall be used to develop the environment in general and maintenance of better vigil against illegal tree-felling.”
The 2006 act under which the prosecutions had been initiated — and which the judge referred to — is Section 11(1) of The West Bengal Trees (Protection And Conservation In Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006.
Under this, one can be fined Rs 5,000. It also has a one-year jail term. A court can also grant both. And till the requisite number of trees are replanted, the person charged under this offence needs to pay a fine of Rs 50 a day. “This is a compoundable offence,” said Manoj Malhotra, who argued for the state.
The petitioner’s advocates could not be contacted for comment. It is still not known whether any fresh petition has been filed challenging this order.
The HC’s order, detailing the offence, says: “It is submitted that the hacking of trees occurred in course of compliance with a notice of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to remove stagnant water that accumulated in the property to discourage disease-carrying insects. The cutting of trees has nothing to do with the removal of accumulated water.”
The court said the offences would be compounded if the Rs 40-crore amount is not paid in 15 days. Even after paying the fine, the group must comply with all laws to develop the property, the order adds.