Replacing double-storey with multi-storey flats not redevelopment, it says

As tree lovers in Delhi are all out in support of 16,000 trees which were to be felled for the redevelopment of six colonies in south Delhi, the Delhi High Court has rued how even decades after the first petition was filed by MC Mehta in 1985 (regarding diesel vehicle emissions), the situation does not seem to have salvaged and the authorities concerned continue to act in total disregard of the various directions passed by various courts of law.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar expressed its disquiet as it referred to a series of judgments in various petitions moved by advocate and environment activist M C Mehta over the years on various issues concerning environment protection.

While directing against felling or removal of any tree for the redevelopment of six south Delhi colonies — Sarojini Nagar, Naoroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagaraja Nagar, Mohammadpur and Kasturba Nagar, the bench said, “Decades have passed since filing of the first petition in MC Mehta in 1985. However, it seems that the situation could not be salvaged. The respondents continue to act in blatant disregard to the continuous directions issued by this court, the Supreme Court of India and the National Green Tribunal.”

How can sapling be equated with fully grown tree?

With claims of compensatory afforestation, the court wondered how a sapling can be equated with a fully grown tree.

“…in its counter affidavit,  the GNCTD  shall place all material before this court as to how equivalence is drawn between one fully grown tree and a sapling,” it said.

It also queried how saplings, which the authorities claim to have planned to put up to compensate for the trees, will be watered.

“There is another critical aspect of the matter. Afforestation envisages planting of saplings which naturally have to be nurtured. The Union of India and the DDA shall explain the source of water wherefrom these trees would be nurtured and watered,” it ordered.

The court said so while hearing two petitions, including one moved by orthopaedic surgeon Kaushal Kant Mishra, against the clearance given by the tree officer for felling of thousands of trees in the name of a massive redevelopment of the six colonies.

The environment impact of action or non-action of respondents in Delhi is not only proverbial  but has been the subject matter of adverse comments by the Supreme Court of India and this court in a series of judgments, said the court while referring to the 1992 apex court case titled MC  Mehta v Union of India wherein way back, the court had critically noted that utter disregard to environment has placed Delhi in an unenviable position of being the world’s third grubbiest, most polluted and unhealthy city and said every citizen has a right to fresh air and live in a pollution-free environment.

A division bench of Delhi High Court had taken note of the ordeal in Delhi because of pollution in 2004 in a case titled Ramjas Foundation v Union of India.

It noted the Supreme Court observation as recently as in December, 2017 which said, “invaders have pillaged Delhi for hundreds of years but for the last couple of decades, it is being ravaged by its own citizens and officials governing the capital city – we refer to unauthorised construction and misuse of residential premises for industrial and commercial purposes”.

“Instead of decongesting the city or even maintaining status quo regarding the pressure on available facilities, double storey quarters have been demolished with the object of replacing with multi-storeyed towers with a proposal to put large areas therein to commercial use completely changing the footfall in those areas as well as pressure on public services,” said the bench.

While impleading DDA, Delhi Jal Board and New Delhi Municipal Council as respondents, the court ordered the authorities to explain as to how after full development of the area based on population projection in terms of the buildings, roads, laying of sewage line and water pipes, making provisions for water and electricity, solid waste generated and its management, the plan for the same area is revised amended retrospectively with drastic changes in density.

“The DDA has undertaken massive construction activity of flats all over Delhi. We are not sure that these flats stand utilised for the purpose they were intended. Residential flats stand constructed in every part of Delhi by DDA. The CWG village is a huge complex of flats constructed by the DDA,” said the court and asked the civic agency to disclose specifically names of all its projects, flats disposed of and the number of properties lying vacant while also specifically stating the area under its control and the area lying unutilised.

Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan and advocate Ankur Chibber represented the petitioners.