The Kerala High Court has issued a directive to the State government to ensure that no trees on the roadsides of the State are cut and removed merely for the reason that it obstructs commercial activities or shade adjacent buildings.

The ruling stemmed from a petition filed by owners of a commercial building seeking permission to cut trees near their property, citing public safety concerns and obstruction of the building's visibility. Despite support from Public Works Department officials, the Assistant Conservator of Forest, Social Forestry Division, rejected their request, highlighting the trees' community benefits and public opposition to their removal.

A Bench of Justice PV Kunhikrishnan underscored the necessity for valid reasons to justify tree removal, primarily when public safety is not compromised. The Court said, “To protect a building or to protect a commercial activity of a citizen, the trees cannot be cut and removed. There are instances where trees are protected by maintaining the trees inside the construction. We should appreciate such initiatives. Here is a case where the petitioners want to cut and remove the trees for getting tenants to their commercial building. This cannot be allowed.”

Advocate P Jayaram appeared for the petitioners, while Special Government Pleader Sangeeth CU appeared for the Respondent.

The Court instructed the Chief Secretary of the State to enforce compliance with a Government Order dated February 10, 2010, which regulates the felling and disposal of trees on government lands. The Court highlighted the multifaceted benefits provided by trees, including shade, oxygen, and habitat for wildlife, cautioning against their indiscriminate removal. The Court said, “The duty of the PWD is to protect the trees standing on the roadside and not to destroy the same”

Quoting a poem by the late Sugathakumari, a revered poet and environmentalist the Court emphasized the importance of tree conservation and condemned arbitrary tree cutting as detrimental to nature and the environment. The Court said, “Every citizen of this country should remember these words of Sugathakumari teacher who lived for the nature and the environment, whenever they take an axe to cut and remove trees. Cutting trees without any reason is nothing but a massacre of the nature and environment of our motherland.”

The Court sided with the Assistant Conservator, advocating for the trimming of dangerous branches rather than the wholesale removal of trees. It directed the State government to investigate any potential negligence by PWD officials and underscored the department's obligation to safeguard roadside trees. The Court added, “the State of Kerala should see that no request to cut and remove trees on the roadsides of the State can be permitted without sufficient reasons. Trees give cool shades, pure oxygen and shelter to birds and animals. The learned Special Government Pleader produced a Government Order (G.O.(Rt.)No.68/2010/F&WLD dated 10.02.2010) which regulates the felling and disposal of trees growing on Government lands. The Government should see that the above order is obeyed in the letter and spirit in future. The Chief Secretary of the State should issue necessary orders to see that no trees on the roadsides of the State are cut and removed merely for the reason that it obstructs commercial activities or shade adjacent buildings.”

Cause Title: Musthafa & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors., [2024/KER/33925]

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