Appellant wanted to know the number & species of trees permitted to cut for infrastructure projects in NCT Delhi & compensatory plantation - CIC: u/s 4(1)(b), update the information every quarter with details about amount available & spent on plantation
The Complainant is present. The Public Authority is represented by Ms. Indhu Vijayan, DCF(N).
2. Complainant by his RTI application had sought information in the format mentioned in his application. He wanted to know how many trees have been permitted to cut for infrastructure projects in NCT Delhi during 01.04.2004 to 30.11.2014, species wise number of trees felled during the period from 01.04.2004 to 30.11.2014 and which species of trees were planted as compensation in each case. PIO (West Forest Division) replied on 09.02.2015 wherein, he requested the applicant to come for inspection in relation to point nos. 1 & 2 and for point no. 3 provided the details. PIO (North forest division) replied on 05.02.2015 requesting the applicant to come for inspection. Being unsatisfied, complainant approached the Commission.
3. It is relevant here to note that the Supreme Court in its order in T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs. Union of India and Others [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995], dated the 30th October, 2002, directed that a Compensatory Afforestation Fund be created in which all the monies received from the user agencies towards compensatory afforestation, additional compensatory afforestation, penal compensatory afforestation, net present value of the diverted forest land or catchment area treatment plan shall be deposited.
4. The Supreme Court has directed that, besides artificial regeneration (Plantations), the Fund shall also be utilised for undertaking assisted natural regeneration, protection of forests, infrastructure development, wildlife protection and other related activities and an independent system of concurrent monitoring and evaluation should be evolved and implemented through the Compensatory Afforestation Fund to ensure effective and proper utilisation of funds.
5. The Supreme Court in its judgment dated 26th September, 2005 in the same Writ Petition observed that the Fund generated for protecting ecology and providing regeneration should not be treated as a Fund under article 266 and article 283 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court had directed that since the Government has not constituted a Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority an ad hoc Authority should be constituted.
6. In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad vs Union Of India & Ors, (Writ Petition (civil) No. 202 of 1995, the Supreme Court Bench consisting of A.K. Patnaik, Surinder Singh Nijjar, Fakkir Mohamed Kalifulla held on 12 March, 2014 petitioner challenged the legality and the validity of the actions of the State of Tamil Nadu and its officers in destroying the tropical rain forest in the Gudalur and Nilgiri areas in violation of the Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and Tamil Nadu Hill Stations Preservation of Trees Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Petitioner stated that this has resulted in serious ecological imbalances affecting lives and livelihood of the people living in the State of Tamil Nadu.
7. The petitioner has highlighted that the respondents have in collusion with certain vested interests allowed trespassers to encroach and enter upon the forest land for the purpose of felling trees and conversion of forest land into plantations. It was pointed out that the encroachers on the forest land have been indiscriminately cutting and removing valuable Rosewood trees, Teak trees and Ayni trees, which are immensely valuable and are found exclusively in the aforesaid forest. It was pointed out that loss of such trees would be permanent and irreparable to the present and future generations to come. The petitioner has clearly pleaded that the value attached to Rosewood and Teak wood has resulted in a mad rush by timber contractors in collusion with Government agencies, for making quick profits without any regard to the permanent damage and destruction caused to the rain forest and to the ecosystem of the region. The petitioner also pointed out that cutting and removing of trees is not limited only to the mature trees. In their anxiety to make huge profits the entire forest areas are being cleared, by indiscriminate felling of trees.
8. This apart, it was pointed out that forests are the main source of livelihood for a large number of people, who live within and around the forests. It was also pointed out that the rain forests are the source of life and the plants and animals contained within it are useful for enhanced quality of life enjoyed by mankind. The biodiversity of the rain forest, it was emphasized, has to be preserved for the welfare and well being of future generations of mankind. (Paragraph 5)
9. On 29th October, 2002, Supreme Court considered I.A. No. 566, in which Supreme Court had taken suo-moto notice on the statement of Mr. K.N. Rawal, Additional Solicitor General to the effect that the amount collected by various States from the user agencies to whom permissions were granted for using forest land for nonforest purposes, was not being utilized for such compensatory afforestation. It was pointed out that moneys paid by user agencies to State Governments for compensatory afforestation were utilized for such afforestation only to the extent of 63% of the funds actually realized by the State Governments. The shortfall even at that time was nearly Rs. 200 crores. It was directed that the Ministry of Environment and Forest should formulate a Scheme whereby, whenever any permission is granted for change of user of forest land for non forest purposes, and one of the conditions of the permission is that, there should be compensatory afforestation, then the responsibility for the same is that of the user agency and should be required to set apart a sum of money for doing the needful. It was further provided that in such a case, the State Governments concerned will have to provide or make available land on which forestation can take place. This land may have to be made available either at the expense of the user agency or of the State Governments, as the State Governments may decide. It was further directed that the scheme which is framed by the MoEF should be such as to ensure that afforestation takes place as per the permissions which are granted and there should be no shortfall in respect thereto.
10. The MoEF issued a notification on 23rd April, 2004 constituting a “Compensatory Afforestation Funds Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA)” as an authority under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
11. It also noticed that large sums of money which had been payable by user agencies in cases where approval had been granted for diverting forest land that stipulated for compensatory afforestation were not being used. It is further noticed by this Court that certain rates had been fixed per hectare of forest land depending on the quality and density of the land in question converted for non forestry use. After detailed examination of the issues related to the payment of Net Present Value (NPV) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund, the Court upheld the constitutional validity of the payment to CAMPA under the notification dated 23rd April, 2004. It was held that the payment of NPV is for the protection of environment.
12. The Court reiterated the ratio of M.C.Mehta Vs. Kamal Nath & Ors.[ 1997 (1) SCC 388] that it is the duty of the State to preserve the natural resources in their pristine purity. The Doctrine of Public Trust was re-enforced. It was emphasized that the Doctrine of Public Trust is founded on the idea that certain common properties such as rivers, seashore, forest and the air were held by the Government trusteeship for the free and unimpeded use of the general public. It was reiterated that our legal system based on English Common Law which includes the Doctrine of Public Trust as part of its jurisprudence. The State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment.
13. Although huge sums of money had been received from user agencies but there were no effective checks and balances for its utilization. Therefore, by order dated 5th May, 2006, this Court accepted a suggestion made by the CEC submitted in I.A. No.1473 for constitution of an Adhoc body till CAMPA becomes operational.
14. On 2nd April, 2009, MoEF has issued “the guidelines of State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (State CAMPA)”. These guidelines have been prepared on the basis of the discussions held in the meeting of the Chief Secretaries that the objective to assist the States/Union Territories for setting up the requisite mechanism in consonance with the directions issued from time to time by this Court.
15. The learned Amicus Curiae on the basis of the record has submitted that on the directions issued by this Court about Rs. 6000 crores are being received by CAMPA annually. This amount represents the total amount collected for compensatory afforestation fund (principal amount Rs. 3000 crores annually) and approximately Rs. 3000 crores by way of interest on fixed deposits annually. For the year 201213, the amount released is only 6.5% of the principal amount. It is also submitted by the learned counsel appearing for the State of Gujarat that at the time when these applications were filed in April, 2013, the total funds available with the Adhoc CAMPA were as follows:
a. The Principal amount at the disposal of adhoc CAMPA is around Rs. 28000 crores. b. The accrued interest on it is of the order of over Rs.4,000 crores. c. The annual accrual of interest on the deposits is of the order of Rs. 2200 crores.
16. People have right to know how this money is spent. It is the duty of the public authority to inform the appellant the measures taken to compensate the losses resulted from indiscriminate felling of trees. The public authority has a duty to assess the loss and efforts to compensate. For that purpose, they have to maintain record of compensatory afforestation species wise.
17. After hearing both the submissions, the Commission notices that information sought for the years 2010-2015 was given but information pertaining to earlier period was not. The public authority stated that information was not compiled in the form sought.
18. Species wise information has not been compiled by them. Having heard the submissions, the Commission directs the respondent authority to furnish the available information to the appellant for the years 2010-2015 within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order and for the rest of the years, the same shall be furnished within 3 months from the date of receipt of this order after due compilation. The appeal is disposed of accordingly.
19. The Commission also directs the respondent public authority to update the information about the compensatory afforestation species wise for every quarter of year with details about amount available and spent on planting various species in this program and disclose under section 4(1)b) of RTI Act.
(M. Sridhar Acharyulu)
Citation: Mohd. Sajid Idris vs. Department of Forests and Wild Life, GNCTD in Case No. CIC/SA/C/2015/000148