Developer Penalized for Cutting of Trees to Set Up a Solar Project in Rajasthan

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The National Green Tribunal recently directed a developer to plant ten times more trees than what was cut to develop a solar power project in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan and, in the case of default, deposit a sum of ₹200,000 (~$2,421) with the forest department to be used for afforestation.

The tribunal held the company was liable to pay a compensation of ₹100,000 (~$1,211) within one month to be spent on the restoration of the environment as per the district environment plan.

Background

The tribunal took up the issue when it was reported in the media that the solar project proposed at Badi Sid region would result in the chopping of thousands of trees.

The tribunal sought a factual and action-taken report from a joint committee comprising the district magistrate, Jodhpur; Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board (PCB); and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Rajasthan.

The state PCB filed a report acknowledging the chopping down of 250 trees and stating that penalty can be imposed at the rate of ₹100 (~$1.21) per tree per provisions of the Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955.

The developer (Amp Energy Green Four) brought about 3,200 bighas (0.6 acres) of land on lease. As per the report provided by the office of the tehsildar, about 250 Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees were felled without permission from the authorities.

As per the Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955, a penalty of up to ₹100 (~$1.21)/tree can be imposed for illegal cutting of trees.

The joint team recommended the following:

  • The penalty provisions, as laid down in the Rajasthan Tenancy Act 1955, must be reviewed
  • The penalty under the Act is too less in today’s scenario
  • Instead of cutting off trees, the process of translocation of trees may be promoted for greenfield projects
  • An afforestation policy in place of tree cutting must be formulated

In the recent past, environmental issues have come to the fore in Rajasthan. In August this year, a committee constituted to lay down the techno-economic norms on undergrounding of power lines determined that undergrounding of transmission lines of 66 kV and above voltage levels for evacuation of bulk power was not technically feasible. The committee was constituted following a directive of the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case relating to the endangered Great Indian Bustard. A petition had been filed seeking underground transmission lines as the birds were colliding with them and dying.