Supreme Court of India
Chandrabhal Singh vs Union Of India on 25 March, 2021Author: Hon’Ble The Justice

Bench: [ A Bopanna], [ Bobde]







The issue before us in SLP (C) 25047/2018 is whether we

should allow the Government of West Bengal to fell the trees,

in order to construct Road Over Bridges (ROBs) and widen the

Roads. We are told that ROBs are necessitated to prevent

accidents, which are several, over the past few years. This is

the human/development concern that has been expressed by the

State of West Bengal.

It is, however, undisputed that the ROBs can only be

constructed after felling of several trees, ages of which are

said to be up to 150 years. As per the Report of the Expert

Committee submitted before us, primarily, about 50 trees have

already been felled and potentially another 306 trees are to be

felled. As per the Report, many of the trees can be called

‘historical trees’, which have ‘irreplaceable value’ and

compensatory afforestation cannot replace trees of this value.

It is common ground that the trees cannot be transplanted at
Signature Not Verified

Madhu Bala some other location.
Digitally signed by
Date: 2021.03.25
16:42:06 IST

The right to clean and healthy environment has been

recognized as the fundamental right under Article 21 of the

Constitution of India. Article 48-A imposes duty upon the State

to endeavour to protect and improve the environment and

safeguard the forests and wildlife of the Country. In addition

to this, India is also a party to international treaties,

agreements and conferences and has committed itself to

sustainable development and growth. This legal framework

indicates that sustainable development must remain at the heart

of any development policy implemented by the state. It is

essential to strike the right balance between environmental

conservation and protection on one hand, and the right to

development on the other, while articulating the doctrine of

sustainable development. We may add that in our opinion

conservation and development need not be viewed as binaries,

but as complementary strategies that weave into one another. In

other words, conservation of nature must be viewed as part of

development and not as a factor stultifying development.

One of the moot questions often involved wherever there

is need to fell trees to develop a project is how just and fair

compensation can be calculated for felling of trees by any

authority or organisation which proposes such felling. We have

no doubt that such compensation should be calculated and paid

as a part of the project cost of the project which necessitates

the felling of trees and such compensation must be utilized in

an expert manner to create a better environment and, most

importantly, increase afforestation. It is, therefore,

imperative to make a realistic assessment of the economic value

of a tree, which may be permitted to fell, with reference to

its value to environment and its longevity, with regard to

factors such as production of oxygen and carbon sequestration,

soil conservation, protection of flora/fauna, its role in

habitat and ecosystem integrity and any other ecologically

relevant factor, distinct from timber/wood.

We note that the issue assumes significance from the

perspective of climate change as a growing national and

international concern. The pivotal policy document in India on

climate change is the National Action Plan on Climate Change

(NAPCC) formulated by Union Government in 2008, which

recognizes that the country is committed to increasing tree

cover from 23% to 33%. Under the Paris Agreement, India has

committed itself to Nationally Determined Contributions in

2015, wherein one of the stated objectives is to create an

additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2

equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

In view of the aforesaid concept, based upon the

suggestions of the parties before us, we constitute an expert

committee of the following:

(a) Dr. MK Ranjitsinh Jhala, wildlife expert and

former Chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India – Chairman

of the Committee;

(b) Sri. Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of

Environment, Forests and Climate Change- Member Secretary

of the Committee;

(c) Sri. Arun Singh Rawat, DG, Indian Council for

Forestry Research-Member;

(d) Prof. Sandeep Tambe, (Indian Forest Service),

currently working as Professor of Forestry at the Indian

Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal- Member;

(e) Sri. Gopal Singh Rawat, former Dean and Director,

Wildlife Institute of India- Member;

(f) Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Director, Observer Research

Foundation, Kolkata, an expert in ecological

economics- Member and

(g) Sri. Pradeep Krishen, Environmentalist- Member.

The Committee shall discuss and recommend on the

following mandate:

(a) Develop a set of scientific and policy guidelines

that shall govern decision making with respect to cutting

of trees for developmental projects.

(b) These guidelines may specify the species of trees

in categories based upon their environmental values

considering the age and girth of the trees etc.

(c) The guidelines may provide special treatment for

geographical area or eco-sensitive area, they may

identify areas which need to be regulated and even

identify a minimum threshold beyond which the guidelines

will apply.

(d) The guidelines shall prescribe a mechanism for

assessment of both intrinsic and instrumental value of

the trees, based not only on the value of timber, but

also the ecosystem services rendered by the trees and its

special relevance, if any, to the habitat of other living

organisms, soil, flowing and underground water.

(e) The guidelines shall also mandate rules regarding

alternate routes/sites for roads/projects, and

possibilities for using alternate modes of transport like

railways or water-ways.

(f) The guidelines shall also prescribe the mode of

compensation financial and otherwise, the stage of

depositing such compensation and the process that governs

the computation and recovery. In this regard, the

committee may consider the existing regulatory framework

regarding calculation of Net Present Value (NPV) and may

suggest necessary modification.

(g) In addition, the guidelines shall also specify the

manner and mechanism of compensatory afforestation to be

carried out using the deposited compensation, consistent

with the native ecosystem, habitat and species.

(h) The Committee may consider the need for any

permanent expert body and its proposed structural form.

(i) Any other issue incidental to the aforesaid


We direct the Committee to file its recommendations

within four weeks from the date of its first meeting.

The Union of India, through the Member Secretary of the

Committee, is directed to ensure that all administrative

facilities are provided to the Committee including functioning

office space, appropriate secretarial assistance and other

infrastructure. He shall also ensure that all

information/statistics necessary for the deliberations of the

Committee are made available. Further, he shall ensure that the

necessary arrangements are made for the travel and

boarding/lodging of the Committee members.

We appoint Sri. K Parameshwar, Advocate as amicus curiae

to assist the Court on all the issues raised in the present

batch of petitions. The Registry is directed to send a copy of

the paperbooks and records to Sri. K Parameshwar. The amicus

shall also assist the committee constituted above, on the legal

aspects involved in framing and institutionalising the

guidelines it proposes.

List the matter after four weeks.


………………..J. [ A.S. BOPANNA]

NEW DELHI ………………..J.


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