The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has stepped in to save 450 trees that the city government wants to remove for the redevelopment of DDA’s Qutab Golf Course at Lado Sarai in south Delhi.
The NGT has issued a notice to the city government, the Delhi Development Authority and the forest department, saying, “Cutting down of the trees will have a serious impact on the environment and ecology of the area.”
The tribunal cracked its whip on February 27, five days after Hindustan Times published a report, highlighting how the government allowed the removal of trees from an area of 46 hectares - about 50 football fields.
HT’s report dated February 22 also exposed that the government invoked the ‘public interest’ clause to exempt the project from key provisions of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act (DPTA), 1994 that bans felling of trees from such a vast area for ecological reasons.
The government has time till March 13 to respond to the tribunal’s notice, when the matter will be heard next. Environmentalist Padmavati Dwivedi said, “If you look at the trees chosen for cutting your heart sinks. They are all grown up. Why plan projects through trees? We can do it around them. Grateful to NGT. Fingers crossed.”
The NGT invoked the ‘precautionary principle’ and said these trees are more than 10 years old, and during transplantation, many would not survive. The tribunal also cited various studies to stress why these trees should not be cut. “On an average, one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen and absorbs 48 lbs of carbon dioxide… chopping down vast swathes of forest will impact climate,” the NGT said.
While the city reels under spiralling air pollution, activists have raised questions over the project being termed a “public interest” one. “This shrinkage of green cover is for no obvious public good, will increase pollution,” said environmental lawyer Aditya N Prasad on whose petitions courts recently passed several tree protection orders.
The government order reads: “In public interest the government exempts an area of 46.06 hectares for redevelopment of Qutab Golf Course from sub-section (3) of section 9 of the DPTA.”
The sub-section denies permission to cut trees “from the same area twice in a year, subject to a maximum area of one hectare at a time.” It is key to checking cutting of trees in a big green area in a piecemeal manner.
DDA had initially asked the forest department for permission to remove trees in the area to build a club house and redevelop the 18-hole golf course built in 2000. But given the vast spread of the project area and the number of trees involved, the matter reached the highest levels.