If Delhi feels that development projects need to be dismantled, they will be dismantled, the Delhi High Court Wednesday told the authorities undertaking the proposed redevelopment of seven central government housing projects in south Delhi.
“We cannot leave Delhi to die like this,” said a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar, adding that the government and authorities concerned shall refrain from felling a “single tree” in the capital till further orders.
On the plea by senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra, who challenged the environment clearance given to the housing projects, the bench prohibited authorities from cutting trees till the next date of hearing, July 26. It also asked the Delhi government to “explain how a fully grown tree could be equated to 10 saplings” and “how long a sapling will take to grow into a tree”.
Observing that the residential projects spanning six colonies — Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagraj Nagar, Mohammadpur and Kasturba Nagar — would create traffic chaos near AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospital, the court warned that it would give orders regarding demolition of the East Kidwai Nagar project, if required, as it seems to be haphazard and impacts the hospitals.
The court also asked authorities to explain how they planned to tackle waste management, vehicle parking and other aspects while undertaking the project. Noting that Delhi is home to a large population of avian fauna and trees, the bench also sought to know if the Kidwai Nagar project will impact the environment. Pointing out that since 1987, all courts have been insisting on the “mantra of decongesting Delhi”, the court asked why such projects cannot be shifted to outer Delhi, and that authorities should develop colonies like Narela.
Taking note of a submission that Delhi was running out of groundwater, the court asked the Centre and the city government how they propose to water saplings that are going to replace fully grown trees under the compensatory afforestation policy.
The counsel for the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) Limited, tasked with redeveloping half-a-dozen south Delhi colonies, claimed that no garbage was going out of the construction site. The bench, however, asked the ministries of environment and forest and housing, the Delhi government, NBCC, Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Jal Board, New Delhi Municipal Council and other authorities to file a detailed reply and explain why it was necessary to cut trees and how they changed the Master plan on the matter retrospectively.
The court also appointed two amicus curiae in the housing project matter, including environmentalist M C Mehta.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government’s standing counsel told the court that the government has started the process of revoking and reviewing permission granted to cut trees for the projects.
The court also sought response of authorities on a contempt plea filed by environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, alleging that there was deliberate and willful default of the NBCC’s June 25 undertaking given to the court not to cut trees till July 4 for the housing projects.