Amicus curiae Kailash Vasdev told the Delhi High Court Wednesday that “over 100,000 trees” were felled by the Public Works Department and Delhi Metro between 2006 and 2010 in the national capital and the Delhi government had not placed post-2009 data on tree felling and development projects in the public domain.
Submitting a report of suggestions and analysis on air pollution in Delhi, Vasdev, a senior advocate, told the bench of Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva that an estimated 10,500 deaths, directly related to bronchial and cardiovascular diseases, were occurring every year in the capital. “Government inaction is killing people,” he said .
Noting that data on the estimated number of deaths were taken from studies done by the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, the bench observed that “cutting of trees in such magnitude has certainly enabled air pollution to increase in Delhi”.
During a hearing on a suo motu PIL taken up by the High Court, Vasdev said measures taken by courts and the National Green Tribunal so far were “short-term measures” which had not taken into account the basic problem of depleting green cover in the city. “There is need to take long-term measures for the National Capital Region,” he said.
The bench was told that though most attention had been paid to vehicular pollution caused by buses and large vehicles, “two wheelers were the highest pollutants” in the city.
The bench directed the Delhi government, PWD, DDA and DMRC to file by April 22 detailed affidavits on the number of trees cut and number of trees planted in various areas in Delhi in the last 15 years.
It noted that data from 2000 to 2015 was necessary to “enable us to analyse whether in a particular area, from which trees have been cut, have been replanted there. It is of no use if trees are cut from one area and replanted in another,” the bench said.
It declined, however, to issue orders on Vasdev’s plea to stay the proposed Metro construction work, saying it did not want to issue “knee-jerk reactions”.
The bench also sought a report from the Central government on the outcome of a high-level consultation called by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the NGT directions. “Inform us whether there is any action plan created for the NCR,” the bench said.
The Centre was told to “keep the court informed” of the work being done under NGT directions. The bench said “there will be absolute chaos” if there were to be “overlap” in directions issued by the NGT and the High Court.
In his report to the court, Vasdev said development projects by the PWD, DDA, Delhi Metro and other agencies were responsible for “destroying” a huge number of trees.
“Over 100,000 trees were felled by the PWD and DMRC between 2006 and 2010,” he said, adding that during the first two phases of Metro construction, over 32,000 trees were cut down, and the forest department had cleared felling of another 16,000 trees for Phase 3.
He said “all court orders were flouted” in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games when roads, flyovers and buildings were built and the number of buses on the roads increased from 8,000 to 14,000, greatly increasing pollution levels.
“100-year-old trees were cut down, no replantation has been done,” Vasdev said, adding that old trees, including Kikar, Sheesham, Peepul and Neem trees “could not be replaced”.
“It is not possible to replant trees of that age and size. It will take decades for the trees to grow,” he said. He told the court that the “optimum” green cover, as recommended under the Ministry of Environment and Forests guidelines and the Forest Act, was 33 per cent while the green cover in Delhi, last measured in 2009, had declined to 10.2 per cent.
“It may be even lower as of today,” the bench observed.
Vasdev said “more green cover and aquifers are going to be lost with Metro Phase 3 because it will be in the outer areas of Delhi… our remaining tree cover is in these areas”.
He claimed that government agencies had “whittled away” directions issued by the Supreme Court against encroachment on notified forest areas in Delhi by allotting “forest” land to government agencies and private developers.
Vasdev also told the bench that while the Army demolished the ridge hills and forest to develop its cantonment, some IAS officers were allotted land for clubs in the ridge area and Nehru Park and trees were cut for this purpose.
“There were 26 notified forests in the city, but very few are left now. The forest authorities gave permission to cut trees around the ridge, due to which aquifers and water bodies have gone dry,” he said.
He said though there were 17 separate laws in place to regulate the environment and pollutants, “none of the authorities acted in unison”. Citing the example of building bye-laws of the MCD and DDA, Vasdev said that “contrary decisions adversely affect planned urbanisation and aggravate pollution”.
“All civic agencies, laws contradict each other. No penalty or criminal action is being taken under the various provisions. Acts exist to protect the environment but none are implemented,” he told the court.
What amicus said
* Tree felling: Metro Phase I: 14,505 trees; Phase II: 17,997 trees; Phase III: Cleared to fell 16,001 trees; PWD: 52,000 trees until 2010, proposals for more in pipeline.
* 864 hectares of ‘forest’ land allotted to various agencies, private developers.
* Bus numbers increased from 8000 to 14,000 for Commonwealth Games.
* GT Road trees cut for flyovers and underpasses, no reforestation near new road.
* Naraina lake drained and sewage treatment plant created instead of replenishing lake.
* Aravalli hills (ridge) demolished, forest cut to create Shankar Vihar are in Delhi Cantonment in 2004.
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