Pulling up authorities for failing to maintain the Ridge reserve forest area in Delhi, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Delhi government’s Public works department (PWD) to clear all the debris dumped there.
A five-member bench headed by justice (retired) Swatanter Kumar also ruled that if any person is found throwing any malba (debris) in the Ridge area, police shall prevent it and also impose a fine of Rs 25,000 per truck for removal of rubble. The directions were passed on the basis of “polluter pays” principle to protect the reserved forest in the coming times. The Ridge is Delhi’s largest green belt.
The tribunal’s order was issued on an application filed by amicus curiae Raj Panjwani and advocate Rahul Choudhary, claiming that illegal roads were being constructed in the Ridge area.
“All without exception are hereby prohibited from throwing any rubble into the reserved forest area (of Rajokri) in terms of the provision of the notification of May 24, 1994. All the debris that has been collected, which ought to have been removed by the authorities, now shall be removed by DDA and PWD,” the bench said, adding that the Ridge shall be under the charge of DDA.
NGT said that dumping of debris in Ridge area also violates Supreme Court order which had “specifically directed that the Ridge should be maintained in its absolute glory and no debris should be thrown there”.
The bench also agreed with the contention of the amicus curiae who blamed inaction of authorities concerned leading to destruction and starting of non-forest activity in reserved forest area.
When the authorities complained to NGT that residents living next to the Ridge are indulging in non-forest activity on one or the other pretext, the tribunal observed, “citizens are duty bound to obey the law”.
“Rights contemplated in terms of any constitutional mandate, including Article 21 of the Constitution of India, have its own limitations. A right cannot be claimed in violation of the law. The areas have been duly notified reserved forest and as such no person has any right to destroy the same in flagrant violation of the provisions of law,” it said.
Delhi’s lieutenant had declared the land, which is subject matter in the case, as reserved forest on May 24, 1994. The tribunal also said that the notification is in force since 1994 but till date the revenue authorities concerned have not settled forest rights wholly or partly, thus, resulting in non-issuance of the final notification. In the minutes of the meeting of Ridge Management Board (RMB), it was specifically noticed that the additional district magistrates (ADM) for headquaters, south district and south-west district have been appointed forest settlement officers to entirely look into the matter and to determine that the existence, nature and extent of any such right. A specific direction was made to expedite the matter and complete the process. Unfortunately, even after lapse of six years nothing constructive has been done, the tribunal observed.
The three ADMs have been directed to complete the settlement of rights and claims in relation to notified area within a period of six months.
Upon settlement of rights, final notification shall be issued by the appropriate government in terms of Section 20 of the Act within a period of nine months. The chief secretary of Delhi has been directed to ensure the full implementation of this order by all three agencies.