HC seeks explanation on presence of 63 structures in Central Ridge forest

 ‘How can you choke the lungs of the national capital’ – the Delhi High Court said on Monday as it asked authorities to explain why 63 structures were present inside the 864-hectare Central Ridge forest and made it clear that those lacking protection from coercive action “have to go”.

The high court also directed authorities to not allow dumping of any waste in the area.

“Ridge”, which is the rocky outcrop of Aravali hills in Delhi, has been notified as a reserved forest.

The high court sought to know the reason behind such a large number of structures in the Central Ridge forest and asked the authorities to explain what these structures were.

“Sixty-three is not a small number. It is a huge number. How can they have protection? I am not able to understand. These 63 structures have to go.

“Find out if there is any stay order by any court on these structures. You (Delhi government) file an affidavit as to what these structures are along with photographs and you remove them.

“It is in the larger interest of the people of the state. These (ridge areas) are the lungs of Delhi. How can there be 63 structures on the ridge? You find out what these structures are and what is the protection available with each of these structures. If there is no protection, the structure has to go. Do the needful in four weeks,” Justice Jasmeet Singh said.

The court was informed by the amicus curiae that there is absolutely no protection to these structures.

During the hearing on a contempt case involving issues of tree plantation and green cover, the high court sought to know from Deputy Conservator of Forest (West) Abhinav Kumar as to how can there be so many structures in the central ridge land, including an ashram.

The officer told the high court that 63 structures inside the 864-hectare area of the Central Ridge have been in existence for long.

As the judge sought to know whether these structures could be removed or if there was any protection to them, the officer referred to a judgment of the Supreme Court in M C Mehta case and said there was no order to remove them, so the structures are still there.

“Your affidavit will indicate what is the status of these structures and indicate what you intend to do with them,” the high court said.

The Ridge has been divided into four zones south, south-central, central and north due to administrative reasons. These four zones make up a total area of around 7,784 hectares.

The high court was hearing a contempt case involving issues of tree plantation and green cover.

On the issue of the presence of road rollers and concrete roads inside the Central Ridge, the high court was informed by DCF (West) that 14 truckloads of construction and demolition material and 10 truckloads of municipal solid waste have been removed from there over the last two months.

The high court said there should not have been any construction or demolition material or municipal solid waste in Central Ridge and termed the situation as “unacceptable”‘.

“How can we choke the Central ridge? They are actually the lungs of Delhi. Why was it there, I don’t understand. I will not let this happen to the central ridge, I am very clear on this,” the judge said.

The court was assured by the DCF (West) that there will be adequate monitoring and appropriate deployment of staff to ensure that there is no dumping of any material in the Central Ridge.

Taking on record the assurance, the high court said in case of any violation, the DCF shall be personally responsible for it and added that if the officer needs any additional resources, he is at liberty to file an application before the court which will be considered.

The court was informed by Delhi government counsel Sameer Vashisht that a trail path was being constructed to the central ridge and now it has been stopped and no further construction of any kind of path will be done without permission of the court.

He said that the path already made shall be removed along with the material within six weeks and a compliance affidavit will also be filed.

Meanwhile, the DCF informed the court that 38 trees were cut as they were affecting the stability and safety of the 14th Century Malcha Mahal and it was done after receiving a letter from the Archaeological Department that the trees were dangerous to the structure.

The court asked the officer to file an explanation in this regard and also mention whether the Archaeological Department has complied with the direction for the plantation of trees along with the success rate of the trees.

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Regarding the Delhi Green Fund, the Delhi government counsel said he will take instructions for the optimal utilisation of funds in consultation with all DCFs.

On the issue of the need for another forest in the city and for expanding the existing forest area, the DDA counsel Shobhana Takiar said she will have a meeting with the Director of Planning and will identify some land that can be utilised for extending the forest land.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on October 9.

The high court had earlier expressed displeasure over the construction of a concrete road in the Central Ridge area and asked the city authorities to take corrective measures or face contempt.

It was informed by the amicus curiae (a lawyer appointed friend of the court for assistance) about the presence of road rollers and concrete roads inside the central ridge.

The court had appointed lawyers Gautam Narayan, Aditya Narayan Prasad and Prabhsahay Kaur as amicus curiae in the matter.

The forest official had submitted that the road had been in existence for a long time and led to an ISRO station. The officer said some trees were also pruned.

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