Russian poplars and Covid-19: HC warns govt of ‘punitive’ action if report not filed by June 23

Srinagar, June 17: Jammu and Kashmir High Court has warned authorities of “punitive” action if the report by an expert committee on aspects relating to the Russian Poplar trees including the impact of the pollen and fluff from these trees on the spread of the novel coronavirus was not filed before it by June 23.

Hearing a Public Interest Litigation, a division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Vinod Chatterji Koul warned the authorities after Additional Advocate General Aseem Sawhney said that he has received oral instructions that the needful has been done by the General Administration Department.

“It is truly unfortunate that we have not been informed about what is the ‘needful’ which is done,” the court said, adding, “In case the action taken report is not filed before us before the next date of hearing, we shall be constrained to take a strict view of the matter and pass punitive orders against the authorities concerned”. The case has been listed for fruiter consideration on June 23.

Last month, Additional Advocate General Amit Gupta had informed the court that the General Administration Department has taken a view on the report submitted by the Expert Committee and the same stands forwarded to the Department of Law and the Forest Department for compliance.

“Neither report of expert committee nor the decision taken thereon has been placed before us,” the court had said previously and sought the same.

Headed by Dr. Mohit Gera (IFS), Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and HoFF, the members of panel included Farooq Ahmad Gillani (Chief Conservator of Forests, Kashmir), Dr. Mushtaq Siddiqi (Vice-Chancellor, Islamic University of Science & Technology), Dr. Naveed Nazir Shah (HoD, Pulmonary Medicine, Government Medical College, Srinagar), Zubair Ahmad Shah (Conservator of Forests, Srinagar), Dr. Tariq. H. Masoodi (Dean, Department of Forestry, SKUAST, Kashmir) and Mehraj-ud-din Malik (Regional Director, Social Forestry, Kashmir).

The panel was formed following the Court’s order on April 10 last, directing the Chief Secretary to constitute it to examine the impact of the pollen and fluff from the poplar trees and the desirability of felling poplar trees amid coronavirus pandemic.

The court had passed the orders days after almost all deputy commissioners in Kashmir ordered axing of the “female” poplar trees.

“Significantly a grave error is pointed out which is to the effect that female poplar trees have been directed by the authorities to be felled on account of the “pollen” generated by them. This by itself is a basic mistake,” the court had observed.

“Pollen is generated by the male of the specie and not by the female tree. Therefore felling of the female of the Species would not have any impact,” the court said.

It was also pointed out, the court observed, that the fluff carries the seed and not pollen.

“The two reports brought to our notice refer to views of several experts doubting the correctness of the statement that the fluff generated by the poplars could be effecting respiratory diseases or would impact spread of the COVID-19 infection,” the court had observed, adding, “The Committee which is constituted would examine all aspects relating to the matter including the impact of the pollen and fluff from the poplar trees, the desirability of felling poplar trees (also called Russian Poplar) and related issues.

The Committee, the court had said, shall suggest all necessary steps, including felling of trees, if necessary.

The Secretaries, Health and Forest Departments, were directed by the court to take a “considered view” on the committee’s report and place the same before the Chief Secretary for consideration at the earliest. “The final recommendations shall be placed before us at the earliest (now before June 26),” the court added. (GNS)

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