Developmental Projects Cannot Be Stopped on the Basis of Unverified Claims

In a decision delivered by the Calcutta High Court on June 20, 2024 in the case of People United for Better Living in Calcutta v. State of West Bengal and Others [WPA (P)/569/2023] it was observed that there was a necessity to balance ecological concerns with developmental needs, but due to the petitioner’s claims being unverified and lacking enough merit to interfere with the proceedings of the metro project, which was a developmental need, the PIL was dismissed.

The present case is a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Calcutta High Court concerning environmental preservation and urban development. The PIL was brought against the proposed construction of a metro station by Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) in the Maidan area of Kolkata, which involves the transplantation and removal of several trees. The petitioner, a citizen action group, filed the PIL seeking to halt construction activities by RVNL in the Maidan area adjacent to Victoria Memorial. The petitioner argued that the project would necessitate the uprooting and transplantation of approximately 700 trees, adversely impacting the environment. The petition requested that the court stop construction, review the project with independent experts, and set up an expert committee to assess the feasibility of the tree transplantation.

The issue for consideration in this case was whether RVNL’s construction of the metro station and the associated transplantation of trees violated environmental regulations and judicial pronouncements protecting the Maidan area.

The petitioner, relying on past precedents, argued that the Maidan holds significant environmental, social, cultural, and economic importance and that the respondents neglected their duty to protect the Maidan under Article 48A of the Constitution of India. The respondents, RVNL, however, stated that they had obtained the requisite permissions for the transplantation and felling of trees, and that the project included stringent conditions to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. They argued that the petitioner’s claims were based on unverified information from news reports and lacked factual support.

On hearing the contentions of both parties, the court observed that the respondents and RVNL had indeed secured the necessary permissions and had taken steps to mitigate the environmental impact. The court noted that the permissions were subject to stringent conditions and could not be deemed arbitrary or unreasonable. The court further observed the necessity of balancing ecological concerns with developmental needs and highlighted the environmental safeguards in place, acknowledging the detailed environmental planning measures put in place. Accordingly, the court dismissed the PIL, citing that the claims of the petitioner were largely derived from unverified newspaper reports and finding no merit in the allegations made to establish a case for interfering with the metro project.