The above valuation was made in 2021 by an expert committee in its report to the SC green bench then headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde. Alternative suggestions made by the committee, such as building “lower-cost bridges” located elsewhere along the same stretch of road, and exploring the possibility of underpasses were ignored.
Commenting on the verdict, Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate, who appeared for the petitioner and argued that the entire road widening exercise would involve felling of thousands of trees, said, “It is against the environment. It indicates that judges have no understanding or sensitivity to sustainable development.”
In Himachal Pradesh – a state already facing a host of environmental problems caused by deforestation, construction of large hydro projects and unsustainable widening of roads from two lanes to four lanes – the bench upheld the felling of Class 3 trees at Kasra no. 457 on an area of 11.89 hectares under Theog Forest, District Shimla’. (Shimla, as geologists have warned, may face a subsidence problem similar to what is happening in Joshimath.) These permits are granted to build schools, dispensaries and community centers, which begs the question—because each state has public land already set aside for this purpose, why are our precious forest resources being targeted?
Environmentalist Reenu Paul cites the example of the Dehradun Municipal Corporation which decided to absorb 72 villages under its jurisdiction in 2016. Several activists hoped it would help ease the burden on sal forests growing across the city, targeted like many others across the country for “development purposes”.
Several RTIs were filed by environmentalists seeking information on how much land has been handed over to the state and how it will be used. The state did not respond to these RTIs, and most of the land has since been handed over to contractors and real estate developers, Paul points out.