The population of an illegal colony in Delhi’s lone wildlife sanctuary in Asola-Bhatti has gone up tenfold —from 4,000 to 40,000 — in recent years, eating into precious green belts on a daily basis, documents accessed by HT have revealed.
Instead of executing several court orders issued since 1996 to relocate the settlement, officials have now decided to either fence the colony or erect a boundary wall around it to check further encroachment. Relocation remains on hold since the residents form a sizeable vote bank in the Chhatarpur assembly seat.
On March 3, top forest department, administrative and police officials held a meeting to discuss the “ever-increasing encroachment of the sanctuary — part of the Ridge in south Delhi — by the residents of the colony.”
“The district magistrate (south) expressed concern over the population growth and land grab. We decided to either fence the colony or erect a boundary wall around it,” said a top government official.
There were three colonies in the 6,814-acre sanctuary. After a Supreme Court order, two of them were shifted out. But Sanjay Colony stayed put.
Senior lawyer Raj Panjwani who is assisting courts in matters related to the ridge said, “Instead of persuading the occupants to move out, as provisions have already made for their rehablitation, the government has been making their existence permanent through building roads and other such facilities.”
No construction can take place inside a wildlife sanctuary without the permission of National Board for Wildlife, which is headed by the prime minister.
There have been several court orders that the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board would shift the colony to nearby Sawda Ghera, and no human habitation would be permitted in the sanctuary. “It (the relocation) never happened because of protests from residents,” said the government official.
“If the government feels fencing is the option to check encroachment, so be it. But it should also ensure there is no further development within the boundary, nor is there outside expansion. And relocation should be pursued expeditiously,” Panjwani said.Environmentalist Ravi Agrawal, a former member of Delhi’s ridge management board, said, “Close to Chhatarpur, it’s a high-value land. No land grab happens without the government’s knowledge. You cannot jail people in. This is no solution to contain land grab.”“Accountability must be fixed. Why should it come to this (fencing)?” he said.
The government declared the ridge a reserve forest 20 years ago but non-settlement of forest rights has meant massive encroachment. Panjwani said, “People have the right to roads and other facilities, but they must step out (of the ridge). If we do not wake up now, we may lose it (the ridge) forever. The consequences will be disastrous.”