Remove encroachment from Southern Ridge or face contempt : Delhi HC warns authorities

The Delhi High Court Wednesday asked the forest authorities to take steps for removal of encroachment from the Southern Ridge or face contempt action as it raised an alarm over the existence of a “concrete jungle” there and the worsening air quality in the national capital.

“What is happening in Southern Ridge? This is shocking. Three hundred hectare of land, all encroached…This is not acceptable. People of Delhi are wanting trees. Look at the level of pollution, the air quality,” said Justice Jasmeet Singh while dealing with cases concerning the well-being of the city’s Ridge area.

Justice Singh also said the court will not allow movement of motor vehicles through a road inside the Central Ridge which houses an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) station, and asked the Centre to come forward with a “viable solution” to access the premises.

“You can’t have a road in Central Ridge. That I will not permit. These are the lungs of Delhi. Look at the level of pollution. Maybe trees can help us,” the court remarked, adding the authorities were not being asked to compromise with the development of the nation or science.

When the central government counsel contended the station was established there due to a “strategic reason” and access to it was necessary, the court responded, saying,

“That’s fair but we will not permit cars. Find a viable solution. Twenty-four employees can’t go by cars (inside the ridge),” the court said.

Justice Singh suggested the commuters could either walk to the ISRO station, use bicycles or work in shifts.

With respect to the encroachment inside the Southern Ridge, the court told the forest department it was the custodian of forests in the city and “nothing” can be permitted inside a notified forest.

“I will give you one week. Show what action is taken (with respect to the removal of encroachment)… Otherwise we will frame contempt. This is shocking. It is all concrete jungle. In place of forest, there is concrete jungle,” the court told the principal cecretary, forest department, as it sought a report before the next hearing.

The top official assured the court of appropriate action.

Lawyers Gautam Narayan and Aditya N Prasad appeared assisted the court in the matter.

Considered the lungs of the national capital, the Ridge is an extension of the Aravalli hill range in Delhi and is a rocky, hilly and forested area.

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It 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.

On August 28, the court had said that ridge areas in Delhi were the “lungs” of the national capital and expressed concern over presence of 63 structures inside the 864-hectare Central Ridge here.

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

Subsequently, on September 4, it also directed that no construction activity, including building a boundary wall around Malcha Mahal, a Tughlaq-era hunting lodge, shall be carried out in the Central Ridge.

The matter would be heard next on November 8 and 9.

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