The Madras High Court Bench here on Thursday directed the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) Project Implementation Units (PIUs) in Madurai, Tiruchi, Thanjavur, Karur and Karaikudi to plant 10 saplings for every tree felled by them to widen the highways within their jurisdiction.

A Division Bench of Justice Satish K. Agnihotri and Justice R. Sudhakar ordered that the plantation work on the sides of the highways must be started on February 15 and completed within six months. Periodic progress reports should be filed in the court on the first working day of every month, they said.

The judges also appointed advocate T. Lajapathi Roy as amicus curiae in the case to suggest the types of plants that could be planted by the NHAI.

Apart from Mr.Roy, a team of lawyers was also constituted to monitor the commencement of plantation works in all the five Project Implementation Units on February 15.

The interim orders were passed on a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by S.M. Anantha Murugan of Virudhunagar district.

The petitioner had claimed that thousands of trees had been felled in the State in the last few years to upgrade the national highways from two to four lanes.

The petitioner’s counsel, W. Peter Ramesh Kumar, contended that the NHAI had been concentrating only on collection of toll from the users of national highways rather than compensating for the loss of valuable trees.

He sought an interim direction restraining the officials from collecting toll.

However, C. Arulvadivel alias Sekar, counsel for the NHAI, claimed that the officials had already begun planting three saplings for every tree felled by them.

Not in agreement with it, the judges said that the compensatory quantity should be 10 times the loss as per the latest ruling delivered by the Supreme Court.

According to individual reports submitted by the Project Directors of all the five PIUs, they had felled a total of 67,064 trees for road widening works.

The present court direction would require them to plant 6,70,640 saplings including those that had already been planted.