Three indicting inspection reports later, the Delhi government’s public works department continues to be defiant. It has shrugged off responsibility for the felling of even a single tree for the road-widening project in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.
The national green tribunal had on July 10 said the latest inspection report shows alarming misdeeds by the PWD and its contractor (who had earlier also said no trees were felled for the project) and asked them to explain why they should not be punished for lying.
In response to the contempt notice, the PWD has now said it only got the bushes removed and three-four trees may have been uprooted in a storm. The agency said it did not have felling permission from the forest department and it never asked its contractor to cut trees. It said all three inspection reports do not really tell exactly how many trees were felled or who actually felled them.
Argument over the contempt notice will continue on July 23. The contractor has also filed his affidavit on the issue.
First, the forest department said 48 trees were illegally felled. Later, it also involved the PWD for a joint inspection and put the number of trees cut or damaged at 235. In light of constant denial from the PWD, the tribunal asked the Dehradun-based Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) to do an audit. The number of damaged or felled trees rose to 421.
The ICFRE, an autonomous body of the Union ministry of environment and forests, has also put the cost to be incurred on compensatory plantation at Rs. 74 lakh. Already, the tribunal during an earlier hearing held the PWD guilty of “illegally felling a large number of grown-up trees”. The tribunal has also said that it will announce a fine to be shared by the PWD, its contractor and government agencies.
The project, aimed at widening a road stretch road from Andheria Mod towards Mahipalpur from the current 16 to 30 metres to 75 metres, started on December 15 last year. Hearing a petition, the tribunal on April 9 this year ordered a stay on the project.
About 70 per cent of the work remains to be completed. The PWD’s plan is to widen the stretch from four lanes to eight lanes, making it the Capital’s widest road.