Calcutta High Court orders Durga Puja Committee to plant saplings around Salt Lake as remedy for illegal tree cutting during 2023 Celebrations

Calcutta High Court

Calcutta High Court: A petition was filed by the petitioner alleging that the private respondents, who are all involved in organizing Durga Puja, illegally and without obtaining any permission have cut down several trees for putting up puja pandal, erecting high-powered Halogen lights. A division bench of T S Sivagnanam, CJ., and Supratim Bhattacharya, JJ., held that the puja committee did not obtain prior permission of various departments before illegally cutting, pruning, trimming and destruction of threes which are in public places, and which are also being classified as non-forest area. Therefore, the committee must be held responsible for such an act and are bound to not only pay a fine to compound the offences under the Act and are directed to take remedial measures.

The petitioner filed a writ petition alleging illegal actions by the private respondents, members of the AI Block Puja Committee, who organized the Durga Puja celebrations. The allegations centered around the unauthorized cutting down of several trees to set up a puja pandal and install high-powered halogen lights. This action was undertaken without obtaining the necessary permissions from relevant authorities. The cutting of trees not only violated the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006, but also disrupted the local environment. The petition aimed to address these grievances and seek appropriate remedial actions. Upon receiving the complaint, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Forest Utilization Division investigated. As a result, a notice was issued to the Secretary of the AI Block Puja Committee, who eventually appeared before the authorities, admitted guilt, and expressed willingness to compound the offence. Despite this, the petitioner was dissatisfied with the mere imposition of a fine, leading to the filing of the writ petition.

Counsel for the petitioner argued that the illegal cutting of trees was conducted without any prior permission, thus violating environmental laws. The petitioner contended that merely compounding the offence by paying a fine was insufficient to address the environmental damage caused. They sought comprehensive remedial measures to restore the green cover and ensure similar violations do not recur. Counsel representing the AI Block Puja Committee, admitted to the illegal cutting of trees and expressed his willingness to comply with any directions issued by the court. The respondent’s advocate, also a resident of AI Block, assured the court of their commitment to rectify the situation and comply with the court’s orders.

The Court acknowledged the compounding of the offence under Section 16(1), (2), and (3) of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006. However, it emphasized that mere payment of a fine was not a sufficient remedy for the environmental damage caused. The lack of prior permission from relevant departments before cutting, pruning, trimming, and destroying trees in public, non-forest areas. The necessity of holding the Puja Committee accountable beyond financial penalties. The importance of remedial actions to restore the green cover and prevent future violations.

The Court directed the Divisional Forest Officer to issue a notice to counsel to appear and identify suitable sites in and around the Salt Lake area for planting 50 saplings. The cost of the saplings would be borne by the Puja Committee. The Court further directed the Puja Committee to install adequate barricades around the planted saplings. The Committee would be personally responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and watering of the saplings.

The Court also appointed the advocate representing the respondents, who is also a resident of AI Block, to oversee compliance with its orders. The Court expressed confidence in his ability to ensure that the directions were scrupulously followed to maintain the green cover for every citizen.

[Kakali Roy v. State of West Bengal, 2024 SCC OnLine Cal 2728, decided on 08-02-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Pijush Kanti Roy Mr. Prantick Ghosh Mr. Pritthish Roy Advocates for the Petitioner

Mr. Rajarshi Basu Ms. Rajyashree Mukherjee Advocates for the State

Mr. Joydeep Banerjee Advocate for the private respondents 5 to 14

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