11 Feb 2023 3:30 AM GMT
Delhi Ridge act as the lungs that supplies oxygen to the citizens of Delhi, said the Supreme Court on February 8 while enjoining the Delhi Development Authority from allotting any land in areas which are under consideration for being notified as protected areas. A division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath pronounced: “This court had observed that not only...
Delhi Ridge act as the lungs that supplies oxygen to the citizens of Delhi, said the Supreme Court on February 8 while enjoining the Delhi Development Authority from allotting any land in areas which are under consideration for being notified as protected areas. A division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath pronounced:
“This court had observed that not only the notified ridge but other areas which have the same morphological features would be protected and no constructions would be permitted. It appears that there has been some difficulty in identifying the areas that have not been notified but have the same features. Therefore, we find it appropriate that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change appoint a committee consisting of a senior officer of the ministry not below the rank of a joint secretary, and representatives of the forest department of the government of Delhi, and the Geological Survey of India, and a nominee of the Delhi Ridge management board to work out the modalities for identifying such areas which need to be protected. Until further orders, the DDA shall not allot any land in the areas which are under consideration for being notified as protected areas.”
The bench was hearing an application filed by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence under the finance ministry, seeking permission for the diversion of 6,200 square metres of morphological ridge area in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area, which had been allotted by the DDA, for the construction of office buildings to house the headquarters of the federal agency. This interlocutory application was filed in the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case, an omnibus forest protection matter in which the top court issued the longest-standing continuing mandamus in the field of environmental litigation. Since 1996, when the writ jurisdiction of the court was invoked by a plea to protect the Nilgiris forest, numerous orders have been passed on a vast array of issues, such as deforestation, logging, mining, compensatory afforestation, and endangered species, with the court stepping beyond its traditional role of interpreting the law, and taking over day-to-day governance of Indian forests. In 2002, a Central Empowered Committee (CEC) was also constituted for monitoring the implementation of the court’s orders and bringing to its attention, incidents of non-compliance.
“Until the process of demarcating the areas which share the same morphological features is completed, no activities should have been permitted in such areas. Otherwise, it would amount to a fait accompli,” said Justice Gavai. On behalf of the development authority, Senior Advocate Garima Prashad submitted that there were practical difficulties since the areas had not been defined. With reference to the particular area that had been allotted to the intelligence agency, Prashad said, “This piece of land was considered to be an extended ridge, only topographically similar to the Delhi Ridge, but never a part of it.” “If they accepted it as an extended ridge, then no construction should have started without this court’s permission,” the amicus curiae, K. Parameshwar promptly countered. Taking severe objection to this contention, the senior counsel vehemently argued that the Delhi Development Authority had been granted the necessary permission by the top court in 1997 before allotting the land in question.
“This parcel of land was acquired by the development authority from landowners against consideration. In 1997, the Supreme Court considered this issue of morphological and extended ridge and held that 223 hectares of land at the centre would not be touched by the DDA, but the bordering areas could be developed subject to environmental clearances. Since that time, we have taken all environmental clearances,” Prashad told the bench. “You have been successful in persuading us,” said Justice Gavai, as he directed for the condition imposed by the CEC to levy a penalty of five percent from the development authority, to be set aside.
On behalf of the Revenue Intelligence Directorate, Additional Solicitor-General Balbir Singh said, “All the approvals are in place. We have agreed to deposit five per cent of the total project cost for the management of the ridge and plant 500 trees. This court may increase the number of trees we have to plant to a thousand if they deem fit.” “We are inclined to allow the application subject to the conditions as outlined by the CEC,” pronounced the bench, allowing the federal agency to divert the particular morphological ridge area in Vasant Kunj to construct office buildings for its headquarters. The court also added that instead of 500 trees as recommended by the court-appointed committee, the DRI would have to plant a thousand trees “as the Additional Solicitor-General has so graciously stated”.
In Re: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 202 of 1995
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