Chandigarh Trees Preservation Order, 1952 states that except with the permission of the Chief Administrator, no tree should be felled, pruned or destroyed. “Protected trees” are numbered and listed in a register and the notice of the chief administrator warns of action against offenders breaking the order. The zoning plan of each sector of Chandigarh marks the trees protected under the order. Centennial trees are classified as heritage by the administration. The replanting guidelines contain protection measures and maintenance of fences, which may be necessary for the protection of trees. As a result, the administration proudly proclaims 31 heritage trees in Chandigarh.
The question of responsibility for the loss of life caused by the tragic fall of heritage trees requires answers. Does responsibility change when such trees grow in public schools, Sukhna Lake, PGIMER or in private schools? Can Chandigarh administration disclaim responsibility for maintenance, security, liability and compensation, if located in private buildings? The 250-year-old trees are babies of the UT administration. Private building owners cannot own or possess heritage/protected trees. With ownership, responsibility also travels. Administrators cannot shift gears to renege on negligence obligations over the loss of precious human lives.
Torts as torts for actionable claims are not codified in Indian law. In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that the “precautionary principle” and the “polluter pays principle” are essential characteristics of sustainable development. In two cases of Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa and Mehmood Nayyar v. State of Chattisgarh, the Supreme Court held that superior courts, protectors of the civil liberties of citizens, have power, jurisdiction in addition to the obligation to provide reparation in the exercise of their extraordinary right. jurisdiction under the Indian Constitution. The award of written compensation for violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms relating to life and personal liberty is innovated by the Supreme Court to repair damages and provide monetary relief, notwithstanding the rights of the citizen to apply conventional civil or criminal procedures for reparation.
Judge Rajiv Raina of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has awarded Rs 60 lakh to a four-year-old boy who suffered triple amputation of his limbs as a result of electrocution caused by wires passing over his house in Haryana. Relying on the saying to form a remedy in written jurisdiction for compensation for damages for making ‘amendment’ under public law for a wrong done for breach of public duty, the High Court upheld the principle of “strict liability” and consequential negligence in awarding compensation, awarded “exemplary damages” to this child upon whom fate had inflicted a cruel illness. The court found that failure to provide legal safeguards and protective devices against high voltage electricity of dangerous dimensions, and failure to remove live overhead lines passing over the roofs of houses, attracts principles of strict responsibility to “invade the battlefield fighting for the protection of life”. and liberty of our people under Section 21 of the Constitution”. The High Court, in its verdict, issued salutary guidelines in quantifying monetary compensation, damages and other incidental matters to secure the ends of justice.
Similarly, the “strict liability” rule must apply in the event of loss of life due to the fall of heritage trees. They are not natural calamities, acts of God or sovereign functions. Responsibility is human, not divine. Man, not God, is responsible. The culpability for disregard and negligence must be placed on the Department of Forestry and Wildlife of the Chandigarh administration, which proudly displays its title on these heritage trees. Private building owners can’t even touch these trees. Detection of termites, damage caused by heavy rains, provision of protective structures are measures necessitated by the self-responsibility of the administration of Chandigarh, which should not be triggered by complaints from passers-by. Dying trees cannot cry out for help. Registered and numbered heritage trees on private or public land cannot be treated differently. Heritage trees are and will remain so. Destruction, loss of life and tragedies cannot be displaced by the location of these trees to record FIRs against the unknown. It is time for the responsibility to be owned and not disavowed by the UT administration. Authors must pay. Heads must roll. Examples should be defined to define public boundaries. Repudiation by public denials of blame games must be corrected. The Suo moto notice is attracted to make the ball roll in the right direction to identify the responsibility. Evildoers must be brought to the book. History must not repeat itself.
The author was amicus curiae in the High Court case)