Court asks man to plant 210 trees for cutting 42

January 17th, 2009 - 3:51 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) A city court has directed a 67-year-old man to plant 210 trees as punishment for chopping down 42 in June 2003. The effort, environmentalists said, is a baby step to address a problem of a much greater magnitude.More than five years ago, when Surender Vasudeva had been caught by an officer chopping pipal, sheesham and neem trees for his personal use at Sainik Farms in south Delhi, he had said he did not know cutting trees was an offence.

He learnt his lesson the hard way when the city court convicted him under the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994.

Pronouncing the order, Metropolitan Magistrate D.K. Jangala said: “Trees are the lungs of the city and the preservation of trees is the utmost duty of every citizen. It is a matter of common knowledge that the earth’s green cover is shrinking.”

The judgement was delivered in December 2008 but has only now been made known.

The magistrate further noted that while an offender must be punished, it was equally important to see if the wrong could be corrected by an appropriate direction. He then ordered Vasudeva to plant 210 trees - five for each tree he had felled.

The court ordered Vasudeva’s conditional release and asked him to plant the trees under the supervision of the probation officer within one month. This is the first ruling of its kind in the recent past.

Vasudeva was also ordered to pay a personal bond and surety of Rs.20,000 each.

Section 8 of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act poses restrictions on the felling and removal of trees. According to the statute, no person, whether in ownership or otherwise, shall prune a tree unless there exists a grave danger to life, property or traffic.

To cut a tree, one needs to apply to a tree officer, telling him the reasons for felling. Moreover, every person who is granted permission shall be bound to plant such number and kind of trees in the area as directed by the tree officer. Section 24 of the act prescribes punishment for offenders. A violator faces a maximum jail term of one year along with fine.

“The spirit is which the verdict was pronounced is right, but in addition regulatory mechanisms need to be put in place,” said Vimlendhu Jha, an active campaigner for Green Delhi and cleaning the Yamuna.

“The ridge area, the lung of the city, is fast disappearing. We need the government to be more proactive. We have a tree helpline number from the Delhi government - half of the time nobody picks up the call, the rest of the time they are clueless. The court has asked the man to plant 210 saplings but there is no measure to ensure they grow into trees and survive,” Jha added.

Environmentalist Sudhirendar Sharma was appreciative of the judgment but raised his doubts as well.

“While all this looks and sounds good, there are public service agencies like the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) that end up clearing a lot more tree cover. The general public and court won’t stop them because for them the infrastructure is more relevant,” said Sharma.

Organisations like the DMRC follow what is known as compensatory forestry, something similar to what Vasudeva was asked to do but on a larger scale.

“What is the point if trees are uprooted in one area and more are planted in another. This is just a hoax mechanism, and the age and ecological relevance of a tree once uprooted cannot be replaced,” said Sharma, member of the Ecological Foundation.

“I am appreciative of such an order by the court. This is a positive step, but a baby step in the direction of prioritising trees and dissuading public from unmindful cutting of trees,” he added.

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