HC directs authorities to remove forest encroachments

Deli High Court. Photo by DH

In a bid to reduce air pollution, the Delhi High Court on Monday directed authorities to remove encroachments from forest areas and mitigate dust in the national capital.

On National Pollution Control Day, the court directed the Delhi government to prepare an action plan for removing encroachments from the forest areas after carrying out a survey to identify the encroached sites and to submit it before the special task force which is under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

A bench of Justices G S Sistani and Anup Jairam Bhambhani asked the authorities whether planting of seeds can be done by throwing dart shots from helicopters in forest areas.

It said another issue that requires immediate attention is of loose soil and dust spread all over Delhi on roads and pavements.

The bench remarked that there seems to be no plan for the removal of dust on the roads by the authorities. It said while it may not be a good idea to cover every area with concrete, planting of shrubs and creepers will remove dust.

If shrubs are planted on the sides of roads and pavements, the problem of dust could be solved, the high court said.

It asked the authorities to take steps in this regard and listed the matter on December 5 for issuance of further directions. The court directed the municipal bodies to file affidavits on the issue of removal of debris and dust.

In pursuance to the court's earlier direction, the Chief Forest Officer of Delhi Government was present during the hearing and submitted that their aim is to reach 25 percent of green cover by 2025.

Noting the submission of the officer that till February no plantation can be carried out as the mortality rate will be very high, the bench said this time can be utilized for removing encroachments from forest land.

Taking note of huge encroachments on forest land, the court said the effect will be that either trees or construction can remain.

"With the present state of affairs in Delhi, trees will get priority," the bench said and asked the authorities to remove in four weeks the encroachment on forest land, including heavy encroachment in Southern Ridge where pakka houses and multi-storeyed buildings have been constructed.

"In our view, this will be another step to reduce pollution in Delhi and to save forests," the bench said, directing that encroachments be also removed from other areas.

Senior advocate Kailash Vasudev, who was appointed amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter, said that since 1996 there is encroachment in forest areas and the green cover is being destroyed.

The bench was hearing a PIL initiated by it in 2015 on the issue of poor air quality in the national capital.

On November 14, the high court had noted that this matter has been pending since February 9, 2015, and detailed orders have been passed from time-to-time for taking steps to curb air pollution in Delhi.

However, if the measures suggested from time-to-time had been seriously implemented, pollution levels in Delhi would not have been as alarming as they are now, the bench had said.

"In our view, the problem, therefore, lies in implementation, and not in any lack of ideas. There appears to be a complete lack of will to implement solutions. Orders lying on the court file will certainly not decrease pollution levels in Delhi. Administrators as also citizens will have to play a proactive role if we want to make Delhi pollution-free, not only for ourselves but for our future generations as well," it had said.

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