Katha, which is a necessary ingredient in pan and pan masalas, is derived from the khair tree. The central portion of the tree is used for this purpose. These trees are found in considerable number in the state of Himachal Pradesh. They are also found in other state but it appears that one after the other, Various state have banned the cutting of khair trees, with the result that those intending to manufacture katha have been flocking to Himachal Pradesh. This appeal arose from a judgement of the Himachal Pradesh High Court disposing of eight writ petitions together, which were for issuance of an appropriate writ restraining the government from permitting the establishment of any katha units trees which would have a deep and adverse effect upon the environment and ecology of the state.
Relevant issue for consideration- Whether the felling of khair trees (regulated and/ or indiscriminate) was permissible.
Judicial Reasoning, principles involved and decision- The court held that the Himachal Pradesh government body’s approach of ‘there is no harm in approving any and every proposal that comes before it’ was a totally fault and myopic approach. It was also violate of the National Forest Policy and the State Forest Policy evolved by the Government of India and the Himachal Pradesh Government respectively – besides the fact that it was contrary to public interest involved in preserving forest wealth, maintenance of environment and ecology and considerations of sustainable growth and inter- generational equity, as after all, the present generation had no right to deplete all the existing forests and leave nothing for the next and future generations. In doing so, the court also said of intergenerational equity:
“Inter-generational equity means the concern for the generations to come. The present generation has no right to imperil the safety and well-Being of the next generation or the generation or the generations to come thereafter”.
On this and other grounds, the court finally held: The appeals were accordingly allowed, the judgement of the High Court were set aside the matters remitted to High Court for fresh disposal of writ petitions in accordance with law and in the light of this Judgement.
Pending the passing of final orders by High court pursuant to these directions, none of the said five units were to take any further steps towards setting up the factory. The status quo as of the day of the judgement was to continue and the government and all concerned were to take steps to ensure observance of this direction.
The government of Himachal Pradesh was to make a survey and assess the approximate availability of Khair wood in the year 1996 and the ensuring years. This was to be done through an expert body to be appointed by the government. The government was to be entitled to rely upon the expert committees report and its own assessment arrived on the basis of such report before the High Court for its consideration as provided in this judgement.
No new Industry/unit for manufacture of Khata was to be approved by government pending a final decision by the government on the question of availability of raw material in the years to come.