If it wasn’t bad enough that the Ridge Management Board or RMB has permitted development worth `1,540 crore on the Ridge over the past two years, HT has learned through an RTI query that the board has been sitting on the ‘commission’ it made from allowing these projects when it could have utilised the money for the conservation of Delhi’s green lung.
In the last two years, the RMB has permitted defence housing, highways and Metro projects in the Ridge, earning Rs. 77 crore by charging project proposers 5 % of the cost. This amount is meant to be spent for the conservation of the fragile scrub forest but not a rupee has been utilised so far. Even the interest on the ‘commission’, approximately `20 crore, that’s meant to be divided among conservation staff has not been utilised.
The Ridge is critical to Delhi’s well being since it checks the arrival of hot winds from Rajasthan during the summer, absorbs pollution and aids groundwater recharging.
But in the past two decades, besides government projects, the forest has become host to several temples, roads and illegal structures.
The latest forest department action plan admits the Ridge has been harmed. “No construction should have taken place in the Ridge after its notification in the mid 1990s. The Supreme Court has said it has to be maintained in its pristine glory. The ridge is rapidly shrinking. Development has all but destroyed it,” it says.
But the RMB believes it is well within its rights to allow projects in the area.
The RTI reply says that the Supreme Court in 2011 allowed it to charge 5% of the cost of any project cleared in the Ridge.
“This doesn’t mean RMB will go on a land-diversion spree,” says conservationist Ravi Agarwal. “This way, the Ridge will not survive. It should not be used even for projects like Metro. The network should go underground or bypass the Ridge altogether.”
RMB member secretary GN Sinha told HT that the board needed to strike a balance between protecting the Ridge and facilitating projects that will benefit the public.
But conservationists don’t agree. “The RMB was formed to preserve the Ridge. It has betrayed the trust of people by parceling and selling it. We must have an independent and ecologically conscious board to preserve it”, says environment lawyer Raj Panjwani.