Don’t proceed with construction activities approved by Ridge Management Board: Delhi HC

The Delhi High Court on Friday asked the city authorities not to take any further steps with respect to certain proposed construction activities approved by the Ridge Management Board.

Justice Jasmeet Singh emphasised that development has to be balanced and the Ridge, which acts as the city’s lungs, has to be protected as he questioned if any “positive” work was approved by the board in its meeting held on December 11.

The Ridge is an extension of the Aravalli hill range in Delhi and is a rocky, hilly and forested area. It has been divided into four zones south, south-central, central and north due to administrative reasons. These four zones are spread over a total area of around 7,784 hectares.

Hearing a matter related to preservation of the Ridge, the court voiced its concern over the board’s approval to several construction activities in the forest area like a new approach road from IGN U to SAARC University and a building of the Directorate General and Central Record Office of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) on a 2.487 acre land in RK Puram. Following the approval, the matter has been forwarded to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) for further consideration.

“If Ridge Management Board (RMB) is of the view that there shall be no Ridge, what can I do? Tell me one positive thing (that’s there in the minutes of the meeting) to protect the Ridge..(except one agenda item) Rest is just destruction. It is not meant for this.. Ridge is the lungs,” Justice Singh said.

The court also emphasised that trees and shrubs on the side of the roads do not qualify as forest or green cover for the city and saving the Ridge was important.

A forest department official, who was present during the hearing, said the land proposed for construction of ITBP office was not part of the main Ridge but Morphological Ridge. The morphological ridge is the area that has ridge-like features typical of the Aravallis and has ecological significance but lies outside the notified ridge forest land.

“I understand the development of Delhi but there has to be some balance.. I am unable to understand. This is disheartening,” the court responded.

The court directed that no dumping and burning of waste shall take place in the morphological ridge.

During the hearing, the court also questioned the forest department official over alleged depletion of green cover on a patch of the Central Ridge which was stated to be under the control of the Army.

“So, anybody can come and clear the forest and you will say it is not under your control? We are all telling you, please perform. You have great power (under the law),” the court remarked.

The minutes of the meeting of the board were placed before the court pursuant to its earlier direction to remove an 8 km trail constructed inside the Central Ridge.

The Delhi government counsel told the court that the matter was placed before the RMB which has opined that to protect and manage the ridge forests it was essential to undertake regular patrolling and inspections inside the Ridge forests and the matter should be sent to the CEC for further sanction.

“On December 11, the board has given approval to complete the trail and place the file before the CEC which will put it up in Supreme Court. If Supreme Court grants permission, public exchequer would be wasted in removing the trail,” the counsel stated.

“It is only a single path in the Ridge. Not even a screw has been used,” he added.

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He also said the RMB comprised very senior government officials, including the chief secretary of Delhi, and for any construction related activity in the Ridge area, a proposal is first to be made to it and then sent to CEC.

Advocates Gautam Narayan and Aditya N Prasad, who were appointed as amici curiae in case, argued that the RMB has no power to grant permissions which deplete the forest.

They contended that the board was constituted by the Delhi government in the interest of the Ridge but it was “degrading” the forest instead.

“RMB is not vested with authority to approve depletion. They rubber-stamped four projects in one meeting,” Narayan said.

The matter would be heard next on January 8.

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