The problem lies in a major conflict of interest in the board whose head also happens to be Delhi’s chief secretary.
The board has become a land diversion agency, says environmentalist Ravi Agarwal, “The state is the biggest requisitioner of forest land for infrastructure projects. Delhi’s chief secretary heads RMB and is often a judge in his own cause.”
The board was supposed to ensure that no illegal encroachment takes place and no infrastructure development is allowed in the scrub forest. But one of the three agendas of the next RMB meeting is a proposal to build a hospital and a road at Chattarpur in southern ridge. Diwan Singh of NGO ‘Ridge Bachao Andolan’ said, “RMB considers government proposals which put the protected forest under increasing concrete assault.
This is because the same officer is proposing land diversion for government’s projects and also deciding on them.” “RMB decisions do go to a central empowered committee for final approval. But the problem is the panel doesn’t reject any proposal,” said Agarwal, who was an RMB member from 2001 to 2013
Environment lawyer Raj Panjwani, who assists courts in matters related to ridge conservation, said, “RMB under its constitution has no right to divert forest land. All such proposals should go to the forest advisory committee of the union ministry of environment and forests.” Officially, the ridge is spread across 7,784 hectares but despite being “protected” experts say the forests have shrunk by a third in the past two decades.
Chief secretary DM Spolia did not respond to HT’s e-mail, calls and text messages. Chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who is also Delhi’s environment minister, could not be reached for comments.