Nagpur: A division bench comprising Justice Bhushan Gavai and Justice VM Deshpande at the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court on Thursday came down heavily on the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and state forest department for its casual approach regarding compensatory afforestation in lieu of thousands of trees felled on NH7 between Mansar and Khawasa.
Last Thursday, the court had asked NHAI and forest officials to submit progress report on mitigation and compensatory plantation.
When the matter came up for hearing on Thursday, government pleader Bharti Dangre informed the court that plantation of trees to be done as part of compensatory afforestation was yet to be initiated.
A shocked high court blasted the state government and forest department in particular for inaction. The government pleader had to apologize to prevent a notice of aggravated contempt against the government and forest department.
Justice Gavai dictated an order issuing notice to principal secretary (forest) and principal chief conservator of forests (HoFF) to remain personally present in the court on July 14, the date of next hearing, to explain reasons for the delay.
The bench gave a verbal lashing to the government pleader, saying, “You came running to be rescued from the learned National Green Tribunal (principal bench) orders and we saved you from NGT. You did not want to follow the NGT orders and now you are misleading the high court.”
“Maybe 10-15 days imprisonment can solve the problem,” Justice Gavai said, while threatening the officials with imprisonment.
He made it amply clear that the court will not compromise on environment while permitting development.
When the government pleader told the court that the government was to plant the trees over ten years, Justice Gavai said if the plantation was to be done over 10 years then road expansion should also be allowed after 10 years.
Justice Gavai said, “While felling the trees, the forest department was in a hurry and now when it comes to compensatory afforestation it is delaying.”
Referring to the July 1 mega plantation drive, Justice Gavai said “If 2 crore saplings can be planted in a day, why was the government slow in planting over 1 lakh trees under compensatory plantation,” said Justice Gavai. Justice Deshpande also said that forest near Chorbahuli was completely destroyed.
NHAI was to submit a report on the progress of mitigation measures but did not submit as there are apparently two reports and some discrepancies. The NHAI wants to clear the same before submitting it to the court.