This is by far the highest for such a violation, according to the forest department officials.
The NGT ruling came against a Hyderabad-based real estate firm on a petition by Faridabad resident Vijay Chawla about the felling of trees at Sarai Khawaja village. The petitioner alleged the company did not take the approval of the forest department before cutting trees on land notified as ‘gair mumkin pahar (uncultivable hill)’, which is protected under Section 4 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1990, and did not stop despite an FIR being filed on October 10, 2020.
“We fixed compensation for the violation at Rs 10 crore, taking the value of each tree at Rs 2 lakh. Apart from the said compensation and liability to restore the forest land, the PP (project proponent) will be required to do afforestation to the extent of 10 times in consultation with the DFO, Faridabad, within three months from today (November 14),” the NGT order stated.
The NGT bench that passed the order on November 14 comprised chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member Dr A Senthil Vel.
“The project proponent, M/s SVC & Lahri, filed a response on 15.11.2022, contesting the report. PP has inter alia stated that the issue has been earlier dealt with in two cases and thus this petition should not be entertained,” the order stated.
The tribunal, however, cited a Supreme Court order earlier this year on PLPA to add, “We find that the issue of the area being deemed forest now stands concluded by the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 21.07.2022 in Civil Appeal No. 10294/2013, Narendra Singh & Ors. vs. Divesh Bhutani & Ors.”
On July 21, the Supreme Court ruled that land notified under Section 4 (special orders) of the PLPA should be treated as forest, where provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, are to be applied.
The Supreme Court judgment in the case came after appeals filed by property owners against a 2013 NGT order restraining non-forest activities on PLPA-notified land in Anangpur village. Another appeal, which got clubbed with it, was a petition against a notice to remove illegal farmhouses and banquet halls on forest land in Anangpur, Ankhir and Mewla Maharajpur.
A forest official said the department would identify areas where the company can carry out afforestation to restore ‘deemed forest’ status to the area. “We will ensure compliance and share details of the area for carrying out afforestation by the project proponent,” the official said. The company could not be reached for a comment.