The court ruled that the authorities could impose the maximum fine of Rs.1,000 for each tree cut illegally. The penalty has been prescribed by the Saurashtra Felling of Trees (Infliction of Punishment) Act, 1951.
Rejecting the village head’s plea for reduction in the fine, Justice Kureshi said: ‘The said provision does not anywhere provide that for any number of trees cut illegally, the fine can be imposed only once.’
‘For each tree cut, the offence can be said to have been committed once. Any other interpretation would lead to a situation where a person may illegally cut down thousands of trees and plead that the maximum penalty that can be imposed would be Rs.1,000,’ the court ruled.
‘This surely cannot be the intention of the legislature. Under the circumstances, I see no reason to interfere. The petition is, therefore, dismissed,’ the court said in an order made available Thursday.
Justice Kureshi confirmed the penalty of Rs.79,000 imposed by the state government in 2009 on Mohanbhai Vasava, the head of Talodar village in Bharauch district. Now, he is no more the village head.
As per the case details, the village panchayat had passed a resolution for pruning some of the trees planted by the panchayat on its land after obtaining necessary permissions. However, more than 1,500 trees were cut without authorisation or permission.
The authorities initiated proceedings against Vasava under the tree felling law. On May 12, 2009, the authorities imposed the fine and ordered the wood of the chopped trees to be seized.
This order was challenged in appellate panels but was rejected. Vasava then approached the high court.
Vasava’s counsel argued that he was not guilty of any illegality. He submitted that Vasava had not authorised the illegal felling of trees. At best, a penalty of Rs.1,000 could be imposed under the law, counsel contended.
Government counsel argued that the penalty was based on the estimated value of the wood of the chopped trees.