The Delhi government has given Arun Baroka, principal secretary of the Public Works Department, the additional charge of secretary (environment and forests) — a move that will further the government’s programmes in an election year at the cost of greenery, experts have warned.
With the assembly elections slated for November, the government wants to clear the maximum number of infrastructure projects.
Having the same person in charge of development and green clearance helps the cause.
Several projects are stuck with the forest department and the PWD fighting in court.
The arrangement is aimed at “sorting out” the “differences”, they said. Environment lawyer Parul Gupta said, “Only the department of environment and forests can help check avoidable felling of trees. It has brought many violations by PWD before courts. Now who will act against PWD?”
“Effectively, the PWD secretary can allow many agencies, including PWD, to cut trees. Can ‘the same agency’ grant and be granted such permissions?” she asked.
RL Mahunta, who is fighting both these departments in court, said: “The National Green Tribunal has ordered that forest and environment officials be put on panels that plan infrastructure projects. But the process is being reversed. Also, the same lawyer represents both departments in the tribunal.”
Aastha Kukreti of Delhi Greens said, “He is not to blame. The government is using administrative tools to facilitate treefelling without scrutiny.”
The conflict between development and conservation has the department of environment and forests and the PWD fighting in court. “These are the checks and balances you need for sustainable development,” said Gupta.
By virtue of being the secretary (environment and forests), Baroka is now chairman of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Tree Authority and member of the Ridge Management Board.
Baroka asked HT to send its question through a text.
The question was: “You’re heading both PWD and department of environment and forests. Doesn’t it create a conflict of interests?” He did not reply.