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The Karnataka High Court on Friday, 27, restrained the Forest Department and other authorities from cutting down trees for widening some stretches of State highways in the Tumkur division. As many as 4,153 trees had been identified for felling.

 A Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice Aravind Kumar, passed the interim order while modifying an earlier order of maintaining status quo on the tenders invited by the Forest Department in March for felling these trees. The Bench passed the order while hearing a public interest litigation petition initiated suo motu by the court based on a letter written by Arun Kumar G. from Tumkur complaining about felling of trees.

 During hearing, H. Srinivas Rao, advocate, who has been appointed amicus curiae, told the Bench that he inspected all these stretches recently and there was no significant traffic on the stretches between Gubbi and Tumkur; Yediyur and Kowdle Road; and on Yediyur Road, where as there is only some amount of traffic on the stretches between Gubbi and C.S. Pura Road, and Maddur and Huliyurdurga Road. “It appears that the widening project has been taken up due to pressure from contractors or agencies,” Mr. Rao told the Bench while pointing out that there are possibilities of widening the road without cutting trees.

 Counsel for the State government, responding to a query from the court during an earlier hearing, said that 2,400 trees have been cut of which 150 trees were big, vital local species and the rest Acacia varieties. He said that these stretches were being widened at a cost of Rs. 250 crore under the State Highways Improvement Project under public-private partnership through build-operate-transfer scheme.

 Meanwhile, the Bench ordered notices to the Karnataka State Highways Improvement Project, the National Highways Authority of India, the Karnataka Road Development Corporation, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force), the consultant who the prepared project report for widening these stretches of State highways, and a private firm to which widening work has been assigned. Further hearing was adjourned to September 7.

During hearing of a public interest litigation petition on the sale of non-ISI certified packaged drinking water, the Bench appointed advocate Aditya Sondhi amicus curiae to assist the court.The Bench asked Commissioner for Food Safety and Standards Anjum Parvez, who was present in court, to be present during next hearing on August 2. It asked him to file an affidavit on action proposed to be taken on the issue of packaging and testing of drinking water in the State.

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