The Uttar Pradesh government cannot chop down nearly 3,000 trees in the name of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Court said Wednesday afternoon in an observation that should bring cheer to environmental activists around the country.
"You can't fell thousands of trees in the name of Lord Krishna," Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told the counsel for the UP government's Public Works Department.
The state had sought permission to fell 2,940 trees to widen roads around a 25-km stretch leading to a Lord Krishna temple in Mathura district, and said it would pay Rs 138.41 crore compensation.
The state also said more trees would be planted than cut, but the court was unimpressed, pointing out that planting a fresh sapling was not the same as felling a 100-year-old tree.
"Living trees give oxygen and it cannot be evaluated simply on the basis of their value. The oxygen-producing capacity of the trees must be evaluated over its remaining life span," a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said.
The court also gave the Uttar Pradesh government four weeks to conduct another evaluation.
"We want an accurate report from the state," the court warned the UP government.
The court also dismissed suggestions that the trees needed to cleared to ensure fast movement of traffic, pointing out "if the speed is slow, it will lower accidents and will be more safer".
"The only effect that is likely if the trees are retained would be roads which may not be straight and therefore capable of high-speed traffic. Such an effect may not necessarily be deleterious since high-speeds on highways are known to cause accidents," the court observed.