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SC gives green signal to cut 697 trees for wider road to Taj

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the go ahead for felling of 697 trees in over four hectares of protected forests in the Taj Trapezium zone for better connectivity across Agra, Gwalior and Mumbai.

A Special Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and C.S. Nagappan on Wednesday permitted the Uttar Pradesh government to cut down the trees to pave way for the widening and four-laning of Agra-Shamshabad-Rajakhera Road – a crucial 12-km long stretch which serves as a link to Taj Mahal from Yamuna Expressway and connects the Agra-Gwalior-Mumbai National Highway.

The four-laning and widening of the road is estimated at Rs. 103.27 crore. The dispute came to court on a petition filed by public interest counsel M.C. Mehta.

“Public interest”

Faced with the choice to either safeguard the trees or favour the development project, the Bench, on November 25 last year, had asked its Central Empowered Committee to look into the issue and file a report.

On February 5, 2014, the committee got back saying the project is in “public interest” and there is no other “viable alternative” to cutting the trees. The Environment Ministry had also given in-principle approval to the project.

Left with no choice, the Bench gave its nod saying there is no reason to object.

“We permit the State of U.P. to fell 697 the trees in the background of widening and four-laning of Agra-Shamshabad-Rajkera Road in Taj Trapezium zone,” Justice Thakur said in his order.

Afforestation conditions

The court, however, laid down stringent afforestation conditions to be met with before the trees are chopped down.

“Plant 10 times the trees felled in suitable places to be identified by the State Forest Department,” Justice Thakur directed the State Government.

It said the State should get a formal approval under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 and deposit the net present value of the forest land.

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