Nipped in the bud

  • 14/08/2003

Nipped in the bud But for timely intervention by environmentalists, the West Bengal government would have signed the death warrant of whatever little greenery is left in the state's non-forest areas. The West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Bill was withdrawn after green groups managed to acquire copies of the proposed act and staged strong protests against it. The draft bill obscurely defines a tree as "any woody plant whose branches spring from and are supported upon a trunk or body, (which) is not less than 10 centimetres in diameter at a height of 30 centimetres from the ground and is not less than four metres (m) in height from the ground level'. Simply put, a tree is not a tree if it is not more than 4m tall. The implication is that if the plant's height is less than 4m, it can be cut down.

Though the proposed legislation stipulates that prior permission must be sought for chopping down a tree, it legitimises felling if the competent authority fails to arrive at a decision within a month. More appallingly, offenders are not only let off with a petty Rs 5000 fine for carrying out unauthorised felling, they get possession of the tree as well. Environmental activist Mukuta Mukherjee avers: "The timber or land mafia seemed to have had a say in the drafting of this bill.' Mukherjee roped in Calcutta High Court advocate Gitanath Ganguly and former green bench judge Bhagawati Prasad Banerjee for compelling the state government to abort the move.

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