The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday issued notices to various government agencies, including the Delhi Police Commissioner, on a plea seeking clearing of encroachment of a large portion of land by self-styled godman Asaram’s men at Karol Bagh in Central Ridge.
The plea filed by petitioner Sanjay Kumar was based on a Hindustan Times report published in September on the basis of a series of RTI applications, exposing government agencies and their inaction for years despite knowing about the encroachment.
Notices were issued to Union ministries of environment and forests and urban development, Delhi Police Commissioner, forest department, Ridge Management Board, municipal corporations besides Asaram's trust.
Gaurav Bansal, the petitioner's lawyer, said: "The Centre had acknowledged the encroachment eight years ago and even pasted an eviction notice at the ashram. But the eviction has not been carried out till date."
The Delhi forest department has been asking the land to be vacated and transferred to it for ridge conservation. The department this week wrote to the Centre again, making the same request.
Hindustan Times had reported that the ashram has “encroached upon government land measuring 38,808 sq feet”.
On July 6, 2005, the land and development office of the ministry of urban development pasted a notice, ordering the trust to move out in 30 days or face action. The land and development office could not ensure eviction despite the fact that there is “no case pending in any court of law”.
No fresh notice was issued to the trust immediately after the expiry of the 30-day deadline.
A petition had sought the demolition of the Karol Bagh ashram in 1985, but the Supreme Court allowed the ashram to run in 1996. Forest officials said the relief was subject to adherence to legal procedures. A forest settlement officer rejected the plea to regularise the ashram in 2009.
The ashram should have then approached an appellate authority, which it never did, rendering itself illegal, said a forest department official.
Spread over 864 hectares, Central Ridge is one of the four protected reserve forest areas in Delhi. Officially, the ridge is spread across 7,784 hectares from the north to south of Delhi, but has shrunk heavily because of construction and encroachment.