Read Order: Soumitra Kanti Dey vs. State of West Bengal & Anr.

Pankaj Bajpai

Kolkata, August 4, 2021: The Calcutta High Court has imposed costs of Rs. 40 crores as a condition for compounding offences charged against a man under section 11 of the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Act, 2006, for cutting of over 63 trees under the garb of removing stagnant water.

While permitting the offences to be compounded, Justice Rajasekhar Mantha also directed the petitioner to plant and ensures the growth of approximately 100 trees on the premises. 

The petitioner had applied for compounding of the offence in terms of Section 16 of the said Act of 2006 by submitting that the hacking of trees occurred in the 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.

Compounding was therefore sought on the ground of the petitioner being a first time offender and that he was willing to replant double the number of trees in the said plot or anywhere else that the Forest Department may direct.

“The cutting of trees has nothing to do with the removal of accumulated water. Yet under the garb of removing water, as many as 62 trees have been cut. It appears that the owners had intended to construct a seven-star hotel at the said premises,” observed the High Court. 

While reiterating that the entreaties made by the petitioner appear to be attractive, the Court observed that one cannot lose sight of the fact that each tree, totaling 62 in numbers, has left a permanent wound on the environment and irreparable damage has been caused to society by the conduct of the petitioner, the Bench held. 

However, considering the fact that punishing the writ petitioner with limited amount of imprisonment under the 2006 Act would not bring back the trees, Justice Mantha said compensating the State/Forest Department/Society would be a just and fair penalty, penance and retribution. 

The High Court therefore, permitted compounding of the offences mentioned in the charge-sheet only upon payment of Rs. 40 crores to the respondent within a period of 15 days from date. 

The petitioner and/or the owner of the property M/s. Emaar India Limited would additionally have to plant and ensure growth of about 100 trees on the said premises, added the High Court. 

The High Court also made it clear that payment of the compensation amount would not ipso facto entitle the petitioner to develop the property, and that same would be subject to permission of all the authorities under all applicable Statutes and Rules.

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