Amid protests over the cutting of trees for the redevelopment of seven south Delhi colonies, the Delhi High Court on Monday directed construction company NBCC to not cut any more trees till 4 July. The next date of hearing in Delhi High Court is 4 July and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) will hear the matter on 2 July, according to reports.
NBCC has agreed with the high court directive and given in writing that trees won't be cut till 4 July.
The court had initially asked NBCC to "stay its hands" till 2 July when a similar issue would be heard by the NGT and asked the petitioner to approach the tribunal. The court's observations came after the NBCC said the NGT had the jurisdiction to hear pleas challenging environment clearances (EC) granted to any project by the Centre.
NBCC, represented by senior advocate JP Seng, told the court that it has also deposited Rs 8 crore with the tree authority for permission to fell trees. Central government standing counsel Ripudaman Bhardwaj, appearing for ministries of Environment and Housing, said the ECs given by the Centre were in accordance with the earlier orders of the NGT.
However, the petitioner's lawyer told the bench that the matter also involved permission given in November last year by the tree authority of the Delhi government to fell the trees and this decision cannot be challenged in the NGT. Thereafter, the court gave the petitioner, Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra, time till 4 July to amend his plea and challenge the tree authority's decision.
Meanwhile, Anoop Kumar Mittal, Chairman, NBCC said that the company plants more trees than it cuts.
The move comes after locals, activists and environmentalists protested against the government's order to fell over 14,000 trees for the re-development of seven south Delhi colonies.
Around 1,500 protesters hugged the trees in Sarojini Nagar, launching their own "chipko movement", a forest conservation movement where people embraced trees to prevent them from being cut in Uttarakhand (then Uttar Pradesh) in the 1970s.
The forest department recently gave permission to chop off at least 14,000 full-grown trees to make way for the redevelopment of residential facilities for central government employees.
According to a government statement, in Sarojini Nagar, 8,322 of the 11,913 trees would be cut while in Nauroji Nagar, 1,465 of the 1,513 tress would be chopped. In Netaji Nagar, 2,315 of the 3,906 trees would be cut, while in Mohammadpur, 562 trees would be felled.
As many as 723 trees in Kasturba Nagar would be cut, 750 trees in Sriniwaspuri, and 93 in Tyagraj Nagar.
The move angered environmentalists and residents of the area, who demanded that the decision be withdrawn.
Latika Narang, a resident of Gurgaon told The Indian Express, "last year, doctors were asking people not to go jogging and keep their windows shut because air pollution had reached a critical level. Last week, air quality plummeted even more. The argument against the felling is that more trees mean more oxygen."
Ramesh Singh, another local, said, "We will not let the trees be cut. Delhi's air quality level is deteriorating and instead of finding a solution to it, we are cutting more trees."
The government earlier defended its decision by saying that the redevelopment would lead to an increase in the green area coverage by about three times and the compensatory plantation of trees will be done in the ratio of 1:10, thereby resulting in an enhanced tree-coverage area.
A central government statement quoted by NDTV said, "the redevelopment of the seven colonies is being done with complete adherence to environmental sustainability and green building concepts and special care and attention is being given towards retaining the maximum number of the existing trees."
However, residents had their doubts and activists called the decision "suicidal" and urged the government to reconsider it.
The issue has also triggered a political blame game with Union minister Harsh Vardhan claiming that the AAP government was responsible for granting the permission to fell trees in non-forest areas and the latter claiming that the clearance for the same was issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, headed by Vardhan, in November last year.
Political blame game
Vardhan said according to the information he had, the area where the trees were to be felled was a "non-forest area" and the forest department of the Government of India had nothing to do with it.
"For the non-forest areas, whatever local permissions are to be given, are given by the Delhi government. It is directly under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government and not governed by us," the Union environment and forest minister said.
The AAP countered the charge by saying the permission for the felling of trees was granted by Vardhan's ministry in November last year. Party leader Saurabh Bharadwaj said also claimed that the lieutenant-governor was the "competent authority" for issuing permission for felling trees at a large scale.
He also claimed that the Delhi government's environment minister, in his note-sheet, had protested against the felling of trees for the redevelopment plan. "We have no objection to the Centre's project. But the felling of such a large number of trees is not good for the environment at a time when there is a looming threat of pollution."
Meanwhile, the Delhi BJP has alleged that the AAP was indulging in "cheap political gimmicks" over the sensitive issue of felling of trees after its government issued necessary permission for it for the re-development of residential facilities for central government employees.
"It is sad to see cheap political gimmicks being played in such a sensitive issue by the Delhi government after it issued permission to fell trees," Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari said.
With inputs from agencies
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