Supreme Court’s guidelines on tree valuation offer ray of hope

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It has happened for the first time in India. A Supreme Court-appointed technical committee has estimated the value of a tree at 74,500 rupees multiplied by its age. This monetary valuation of the tree was made by a panel of experts which submitted its report to the apex court recently. The report will help frame the guidelines on the estimation and valuation of trees that are axed during land acquisition processes.
 
The panel of experts told the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, that a heritage tree serves the society as well as the environment and its valuation can be reached on various counts including oxygen, micro-nutrients, compost, and bio-fertilizer. A heritage tree is a large tree that takes decades or centuries to mature and includes tree species like banyan, pinus, chinar and many other varieties. The report will help affected people especially the farmers and orchardists whose fruit or non-fruit bearing trees are axed during the various land acquisition processes in India.

 

The affected farmers in Kashmir — particularly in Budgam and Srinagar — are now expected to get fair compensation for the trees that are coming in the alignment of the Srinagar Ring Road project. The report submitted before the Supreme Court panel might prove to be helpful for the affected farmers as they have been deprived of fair compensation for the land and trees especially the fruit-bearing trees.

“The monetary valuation prepared by SC appointed panel will definitely help the affected fruit growers or even those people whose non-fruit bearing trees like poplar, willows, kickers etc are to be axed for paving a way for this alternate highway construction,” said Syed Nasarullah executive member of Srinagar based Environmental Policy Group. “As far as land is concerned that is still in the  possession of farmers in several villages especially in Wathoora area where no compensation has been paid. The Government wants to grab land under the repealed J-K land acquisition act which is unacceptable.”
 
Nasrullah said that a fresh notification has to be issued as per the Right to Fair compensation law that is applicable in J-K since 31 October 2019. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court, too, has already given a direction in this regard in an interim order “but for the last four months, the J-K administration has failed to submit its response,” he said.
 
The Supreme Court-appointed committee in its report further said that a heritage tree with a lifespan of well over 100 years could be valued at more than ₹1 crore and also that the monetary worth of a project for which hundreds of trees are proposed to cut down is far less than the economic and environmental worth of these trees which are being cut down due to the project. It is pertinent to mention that a private company recently chopped down, without prior permission or intimation, hundreds of trees for the ongoing Zojila tunnel project in the forests of Sonamarg. Will the administration now realise the costs, as per the guidelines, from the company and complicit forest officials?

 

The committee report that was made public on Wednesday, states that if all costs are added and multiplied by the remaining age of a tree, in the present case 100 years, the grand total would be 74,500 rupees per tree year. Out of this, the cost of oxygen alone is 45,000 rupees a year, followed by the cost of biofertilizers, which is valued at 20,000 rupees. The report had also stated that upon adding the costs of micronutrients and compost, living trees will more than not outweigh the benefits of the projects for which they are being cut down for.

Farmers in Wathoora, Gudsathoo, Ichgam and Ranbirgrah villages in Budgam and Srinagar districts have been demanding that assessment of fruit trees like apple, plum, pear, etc be made as per the present market value of the fruit. But the affected farmers were paid a meager compensation a few years back which was estimated as per rates dating back to the year 1995 —  16 rupees per kilogram of apple and 13 rupees for a kilogram of plum. Some farmers have also alleged that the volume of fruit output per tree was also not properly factored in during valuation.

The J-K administration must take the lead in implementing the Supreme Court’s guidelines and extend much-needed succor to the public.

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