The Delhi government on Wednesday assured the National Green Tribunal that it would complete the task of demarcating ridge forest boundaries after settling all land disputes by mid-October.
Ridge spread in about 8,000 hectares in parts of northern, central, south central and southern Delhi was declared a reserve forest 20 years ago but the government has failed to settle forest rights of local people. This means non-forest activity and encroachment continue.
The tribunal ordered the Delhi government to hear the pleas of people of Rajokari area that they be allowed to use a road stretch falling within the ridge area, which, they claim, is the only way for them to go towards Mehrauli in south Delhi.
"Hear the application and pass an order and place the same before the tribunal by September 19," the tribunal told the government.
The Ridge, or the rocky outcrop of Aravali ranges which also includes Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and Aravali Biodiversity Park prevents hot winds and sand dunes from Rajasthan. Conservation of this arid, open scrub forest with ‘Kikar’ being the dominant tree species is critical because it provides a buffer against rising pollution levels in Delhi.
Mining of quartize rocks created a large number of pits, which now act as water recharge points. The Ridge also prevents erosion and siltation and provides aesthetics and recreational opportunities.
“A major part of the Ridge was notified in 1994 and 1996 after which no construction should have been allowed. Development has all but destroyed it,” a plan prepared by the forest department says.
“The ridge is rapidly shrinking, falling prey to construction activities, land diversion, encroachment and garbage dumping. The ridge must be conserved and kept free of unrestricted and unplanned urban development,” the plan says.
"We have asked all stake-holders in the ridge forest to provide details of boundaries and encroachments in the protected area. Once a comprehensive report is in within a month, the government can go ahead with eviction whereever required," said a counsel appearing for the Delhi government.
"We have finished surveying 15 villages spread in 4000 hectares. The work is on in six more villages --- Asola, Bhatti, Tughlaqabad, Maidan Garhi, Saidullajab, Pulpehladpur and Fatehpur Beri," he said.
The additional district magistrate (south) of the Delhi revenue department said of the 27 cases of settlement of rights, 10 have been settled and 17 are pending in courts.