Emails Indicate Delhi LG Directed Cutting Of Trees In Ridge, Come Clean On This : Supreme Court To DDA In Contempt Case

Update: 2024-06-24 11:26 GMT
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The Supreme Court on Monday (June 24) asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) if the illegal cutting of trees in Delhi's ridge forest was carried out based on the direction issued by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.A vacation bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan was hearing a suo motu contempt case initiated against DDA Vice Chairman Subhashish Panda for the felling...

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The Supreme Court on Monday (June 24) asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) if the illegal cutting of trees in Delhi's ridge forest was carried out based on the direction issued by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi.

A vacation bench comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan was hearing a suo motu contempt case initiated against DDA Vice Chairman Subhashish Panda for the felling of trees in violation of the orders of the Court.

After perusing the report of the Enquiry Committee which has been constituted by the DDA to enquire into the whole episode, the bench noted that certain email communications referred to a site visit made by the LG on February 3, 2024.

The Executive Engineer purportedly sent emails to the contractor on February 7 and February 14. Although the Executive Engineer denied the authorship of these emails, the Court observed in its order that they contained a "specific statement that Hon'ble LG, who is the DDA Chairman, visited the site on 03.02.2024 and directed to clear the trees."

When the bench sought clarification from Senior Advcoate Maninder Singh, who is representing the DDA Vice Chairman in the contempt case, he on instructions submitted that the LG's visit was to another site and not the site in question.

Directing the DDA to "come clean on this aspect", the Court directed :

"We direct the Vice Chairman to state before the Court, after perusing the record, whether any official record is available regarding the site visit made by the Hon'ble LG on 3rd Feb and whether anything is recorded on what transpired during the visit of the Hon'ble LG. We need a clear statement of facts from the Vice Chairman, inasmuch as if what is mentioned in the emails is correct, it would indicate that the felling of the trees was done pursuant to the directions by the LG. Therefore, we expect the DDA to come clean on this aspect."

The Court also noted that the Enquiry Committee has not held any enquiry whether regarding the correctness of the statement in the emails about the LG's visit. "Therefore, we need the assistance of the DDA on this aspect," the Court added.

Although it was claimed that the LG has approved the constitution of the Enquiry Committee, the records did not indicate such approval, the Court noted.

"After having carefully perused the affidavits and annexures, we find that all the facts leading to the felling of trees have not come on the record." the Court observed.

Commenting that the Vice Chairman might have become aware of the issues on which the Court has serious doubts, the Court allowed him to file an additional affidavit on the aspects relating to the contempt case.

Blame shifted to junior officers

From the affidavit of the Vice Chairman, the Court noted that "entire blame has been shifted on the officers stating that they were responsible for directing the contractors to cut the trees without the permission of the Court."

Therefore, the Court issued notice of the contempt petition to the officers mentioned, Manoj Kumar Yadav( Executive Engineer), Pawan Kumar(AE), Ayush Saraswat(AE) and Pankaj Varma( Suptd. Engineer) of the DDA. Notice is returnable on July 12.

Incorporate condition in contracts that tree felling will be subject to the permission of the Court

The Court further noted that the contracts executed by the DDA do not mention the mandatory condition of obtaining court permission to cut trees. The DDA's counsel assured the court that all future and subsisting contracts would incorporate such clauses.

Gross default of DDA; Destruction of the environment cannot be brushed aside

The Court indicated its intent to conduct a detailed enquiry into the "gross default committed by the DDA which has resulted in the destruction of several valuable trees and consequentially the destruction of the environment."

"Such brazen acts in the capital city cannot be lightly brushed aside by this Court. If authorities are not going to perform their statutory and constitutional duties, the court has to give a clear and loud signal to all authorities that the environment cannot be damaged in this fashion."

The Court also indicated that it will pass directions to massive afforestation/replantation in the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi. In this regard, it took on record the preliminary reports filed by the Forest Survey of India and a 3-member expert panel and allowed the parties to access

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani(for the LG) and Attorney General for India R Venkataramani also appeared in the matter.

During the hearing, the Court extensively questioned Maninder Singh regarding the involvement of the LG.

"We are dealing with a very serious issue. 1100 trees, are you taking it very casually? Ask your officer who issued these directions it the Chairman? Then we are making him a you are blaming the junior officers. Is it not done by LG? Tell us straight. Obviously, it is done after the visit of the LG," Justice Oka asked Maninder Singh.

"Two documents placed on record say LG directed to cut trees, how can you run away from this? Are you defending the LG?"Justice Oka asked.

Singh then reverted that the Vice Chairman was not aware as to who had issued the felling directions.

Seemingly unconvinced with the answer, Justice Oka noted that the email communications placed on record sent by the Executive Engineer to the contractor referred to the site visit by the LG. The emails state that the LG, after the site visit, was directed to clear the trees.

"When communication of the Engineer says directions issued, then the directions would be issued by some human being. We want to know who is the human being. Clearly, you don't want to comes the truth, the LG directed it. Therefore we will have to issue contempt notice to LG in capacity of chairman of DDA," Justice Oka said.

Jethmalani, emphasising that the LG was a "constitutional authority", urged the Court not to make conclusions before making detailed enquiry.

The bench also mentioned that nowhere the Vice Chairman has rebutted the correctness of the emails written between the Executive Engineer and the Contractor. The Counsels for the DDA however clarified that the LG has visited another site and not the site referred to in the emails in question.  

It was on May 16 that the Court issued the contempt notice to the DDA Chairman. The Court also directed the Forest Survey of India, Dehradun to visit the road stretches to find out how many trees possibly may have been cut and assess damages and stated that 100 new trees for one tree felled has to be planted by DDA.

It passed a detailed order expressing displeasure about how the entire exercise of tree cutting was done in the Delhi Ridge Area without permission of the Court and asked the DDA Vice Chairman Mr. Subhasish Panda to submit an affidavit stating that he would restore the entire area where the trees were felled. 

DDA was directed to stop all further activities for road construction and also to visit the site to verify the same. 

Also from the hearing - Supreme Court Shocked At DDA Appointing Judicial Officers As Its Legal Advisors, Says It Violates Judicial Independence

Case Details : Bindu Kapurea v. Subhasish Panda  Dairy No. 21171-2024, In Re Subhasish Panda Vice Chairman DDA SMC(Crl) No. 2/2024

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