SC refuses tree cutting around Taj, stalls proposed industrial hub in Agra
The SC received an application from a Uttar Pradesh industrial agency requesting to cut 4087 trees to set up an integrated manufacturing cluster (IMC) at Agra
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied a request to fell over 4000 trees in Agra for a manufacturing hub project of the state government, emphasising that Agra is not short of industries but it is short of trees, and also to protect the environment around the iconic Taj Mahal.
The bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia said, “This Court has been passing orders protecting the environment around the Taj Mahal. We cannot appreciate cutting of so many trees in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) and that too for a non-specified purpose.”
The Court had received an application from the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Authority (UPSIDA) requesting to cut 4087 trees for setting up of an integrated manufacturing cluster (IMC) at Agra.
The site was preferred due to its strategic location on the Yamuna Expressway, National Highway NH-19 and close proximity to the dedicated freight corridor at Tundla.
The application was taken up by the top court as part of its monitoring in the MC Mehta case related to protecting the Taj Mahal and the environment around it.
The Court had mandated that to cut trees in the zone around Taj, known as TTZ, its permission will be necessary.
The state department in its application said that the proposed IMC Agra project is to be executed by a special purpose vehicle involving the UPSIDA and the Central government.
“The project is expected to generate approximately 37,000 direct employment opportunities across the shortlisted sectors as per the demand assessment. This also means that the indirect employment generated due to the proposed -IMC could be as high as approximately 22,000 making the total employment generated by the IMC approximately 70,000. This could be a huge boost to the richly available skilled and semi-skilled labor in and around Agra,” the application said.
The bench said, “Agra is not short of industries; it is short of trees. Part of the project seems to be coming up on forest land.”
The Court-appointed amicus curiae, senior advocate ADN Rao pointed out that the project is proposed on an area of 1058 acres at Rahan Kalan in Etmadpur tehsil of Agra.
He further informed the Court that the applicant authority has obtained state government sanction to undertake compensatory afforestation by planting 10 saplings for every tree that is cut. The state had even earmarked non-forest land in the same village for planting 40,870 saplings.
However, the Court was not convinced as saplings would take several years to grow into trees. Also, the bench observed that the purpose for felling trees was to set up a manufacturing complex that would be detrimental to the environment in the area.
The UPSIDA had moved the application before the top court in December and had simultaneously forwarded a proposal to the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Lucknow, for preparing the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the project. The SEIAA had issued standard terms of reference in May 2022 for granting environmental clearance to the project.
In September, the state government had sanctioned an estimated ₹332 lakhs as the cost for chopping 4087 trees and planting of 40,870 saplings along with their maintenance for the next 10 years.
The application by the state said, “Agra has not witnessed a major foreign direct investment in the district in the last few years and this IMC presents a chance for Agra to cater to some of the FDI coming into the state of Uttar Pradesh.”