21 Jan 2021 2:14 PM GMT
The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal recently constituted an Oversight Committee to look into the issue of encroachments and demarcation of land in the Delhi Ridge area which is declared as a reserved forest by the Lt. Governor of Govt. of NCT of Delhi in 1994. The directions came after the NGT was dealing with pending cases highlighting the concern of illegal...
The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal recently constituted an Oversight Committee to look into the issue of encroachments and demarcation of land in the Delhi Ridge area which is declared as a reserved forest by the Lt. Governor of Govt. of NCT of Delhi in 1994.
The directions came after the NGT was dealing with pending cases highlighting the concern of illegal encroachments on the southern ridge causing forest degradation and ecology of the Ridge.
The NGT while observing that "No non-forest activity is permissible in Ridge area", directed the Delhi Government for taking urgent steps of protecting the Ridge by issuing a notification under sec. 20 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 within 3 months for the areas which are demarcated and handed over to the forest authorities. Furthermore, the Tribunal also directed for creating a Management Plan for ensuring an encroachment free Delhi Ridge.
The Oversight Committee so constituted will be responsible for looking into the progress of removal of encroachments and preparation of management plan.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
An application was filed in the NGT in March 2013 based on a Times of India article titled 'Three Illegal Roads cut through forest' dated 28.02.2013. The primary contention of the applicant was the damage caused to the ecology of Delhi Ridge, an extension of Aravalli Range, which is responsible for protecting the city from hot winds originating from Rajasthan's deserts.
With the passage of time, four different applications were filed in the NGT seeking directions on the Government of NCT of Delhi on the same issue of conservation and protection of the Delhi Ridge.
The Ridge had been declared as a reserved forest by the Lt. Governor of NCT of Delhi vide notification dated 22.05.1994 under Sec. 4 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The Ridge is divided into four zones: the northern ridge, central ridge, west central ridge and the southern ridge. According to the notification, all zones of the Delhi Ridge were the property of the GNCTD.
However, it was later found that there were private illegal encroachments upon the southern ridge causing forest degradation. The issue escalated after the issue of uncultivated surplus land of one Gaon Sabha falling in the Ridge area came into question.
The Supreme Court in the case of MC Mehta v. Union of India vide orders dated 25.01.1996 and 13.03.1996 directed that such uncultivated surplus land falling in "Ridge" may be excluded from vesting in Gaon Sabha under the provisions of Delhi Land Reforms Act, 1954.
When the matter was taken up by NGT in 2013, notices were issued to Govt of NCT of Delhi, Vice Chairman of Delhi Developmental Authority, Chairman of Ridge Management Board and Delhi Police Commissioner. Thereafter, the tribunal added Ministry of Environment as a party to the case.
An affidavit was filed by the Delhi Forest Department in 2013 wherein it was found that some part of the uncultivated Gaon Sabha land was constructed into an illegal pedestrian path in the Rajokri Forest area.
In view of this, the Tribunal had, vide orders dated 16.08.2016, directed the SDMs of South Delhi district to schedule a demarcation of the Ridge area.
An affidavit was filed by the Revenue Department dated 03.04.2019 giving status of demarcation of 19 villages. Mr. Raj Panjwani, Senior Advocate was appointed as amicus curiae in the matter to assist the tribunal on the issue of encroachment.
According to the learned amicus curiae, suggestions were put forth that a notification under sec. 20 of the Forest Act should be issued with regards to the demarcated areas which were ultimately handed over to the forest department. Section 20 of the Act provides for the statutory requirement of publishing of a notification by the State Government for declaring a reserved forest.
It was also suggested by the amicus that such area should be covered with a boundary wall or a fence and a management plan should be prepared by the forest department which must be regularly inspected by the authorities.
OBSERVATION OF THE BENCH
The Tribunal while finding merits in the suggestions of the learned amicus curiae observed that the Delhi Ridge has historical and environmental significance which has a distinct feature of its own. The Tribunal also noted that once a forest has been declared as reserved by the State government, no right can be acquired upon such land except by a decision by the State government itself.
"We are thus of the view that there is urgent need to take necessary steps to protect the Ridge by taking necessary steps to finalize the notification under section 20 of the Forest Act for reserved forest and protection by appropriate measures. The land about which there is clarity can be included in such notification and the remaining process can be undergone separately but expeditiously. No non-forest activity is permissible in Ridge area." The tribunal ordered.
In view of this, the tribunal issued the following directions:
Case Name: Jaipal Singh v. Lt. Governor, Delhi & Ors. O.A. No. 144/2013
Order dated: 15.01.2021
Click Here To Download Order