The Delhi government’s forest department, which is responsible for maintaining and protecting the city’s green cover, has “virtually no staff”.
According to data submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the existing strength of officers and staff under the department is 546. Out of this, 499 are labourers, leaving only about 47 officers, office and field staff at various levels.
“Posts lying vacant at present are that of forest ranger (6), wildlife inspector (3), forest guard (38), deputy forest ranger (3) and wildlife gamewatcher (10),” stated the data.
Taking a serious view of the lack of adequate staff, the NGT on Thursday directed the Delhi chief secretary to hold a meeting with the secretary of the concerned ministry, the principal chief conservator of forest and senior officers on the issue.
The bench also directed the chief secretary to “consider appropriate enhancement in the strength of the forest department and provision of proper infrastructure to ensure all personnel discharge their duties”.
The data was filed during a hearing on a plea regarding felling of trees and the need for better equipment to survey the city’s forests. “… It is further averred that though a proposal for 319 staff was submitted to the government, only 17 posts were created. Even these have largely remained unfilled due to various administrative bottlenecks. This creates a dysfunctionality in the working of department,” said the bench.
The forest department has come under fire from the Delhi High Court and the NGT in the past two years over the delay in completing the survey of trees.
In a separate order, the NGT directed the state governments of Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to immediately ban the burning of crop residue. In earlier orders, the NGT had noted that the practice was contributing to the rising air pollution in the NCR.
It directed the governments to “immediately take steps to educate farmers… that burning crop residue is injurious to health, causes serious air pollution and is now banned”.