Delhi HC sentences to jail two PWD officials for contempt

 Delhi High Court has sentenced two PWD officials to simple imprisonment for contempt in view of their “recalcitrance” to follow the law and court orders in relation to conservation of trees in the Chittaranjan Park area.

The judge opined that there was a consistent disregard in compliance of these orders, which merited a sentence under contempt law and sentenced the executive engineer and the engineer-in-chief of the Public Works department (PWD) to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of four months and two months, respectively. The court also slapped a fine of Rs 2,000 on each.

Justice Najmi Waziri noted that not only did the court earlier direct the authorities to exercise due caution with respect to the wellbeing of trees while undertaking any civil work but the National Green Tribunal also passed similar directions, including the removal of the concrete surrounding tree trunks.

“What is seen from the above is that despite repeated directions and orders passed of this court and of the NGT (National Green Tribunal), there has been a consistent disregard in compliance of the same. Such recalcitrance to abide by the law and defiance of the court’s orders cannot merit anything less than a sentence,” said the court in its order dated May 18 on a contempt petition by the New Delhi Nature Society.

“In the circumstances, respondent nos. 2 (executive engineer concerned of PWD) and 3 (engineer-in-chief, PWD) are hereby sentenced under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of four months and two months respectively, along with fine of Rs. 2000 each,” the court ordered.

The court clarified that the sentence will be kept in abeyance for 10 weeks from the date of uploading the order on its website to afford the pair sufficient opportunity to avail of legal remedies. The court found the two officials guilty of contempt and willfully disobeying the directions of orders in March 2022.

In February 2022, the court had taken on record several photographs of a Chittaranjan Park pavement, which was dug up for civil work and noted that “the digging distance from the tree trunk is less than one metre; the tree roots have been cut/damaged; the orders of this court and of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) have been deliberately breached” and that “prima facie contempt of court has been committed by the respondents”.

The petitioner, represented by lawyer Aditya N Prasad, had said no remedial measures were initiated at the site by any agency and the abandonment of and damage to trees was evident from the photographs.

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The petition had alleged that underground pipe/cable laying work was being undertaken by the authorities on Bipin Chandra Pal Marg and nearby areas of Chittaranjan Park that involved deep and wide trenching and thus damaged the roots of standing trees, especially within a one-metre radius of trunks.

The court had then emphasised that harming trees and causing a setback to the green ambience that leads to eventual damage to the environment cannot be overlooked and the citizens have a right to retain and care for their ambient neighbourhood in accordance with the law.

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