The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday ordered an interim stay on a road stretch proposed to be constructed in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi's southern Ridge.
The environment court ordered the Delhi government to provide details of the proposed project by September 30. Till then, no construction for the said project could go on.
"The Delhi government would submit to if any road is sought to be sought to be constructed in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. If that is so, they could not do any construction till the next date of hearing (September 30)," the tribunal ruled.
The counsel appearing for the Delhi government assured the tribunal that he would take instructions from officials concerned and get back with details.
Senior lawyer Raj Panjawani brought a Hindustan Times report headlined "Troubled road ahead for Delhi's only sanctuary" to the notice of the tribunal.
Panjwani who is also assisting the tribunal as amicus curiae in matters related to the Ridge cited the HT report dated August 10 and informed the tribunal, "There were three colonies in the sanctuary. After a Supreme Court order, two of them were shifted out. But Sanjay Colony has stayed put. Instead of implementing the court order by persuading the occupants to move out, as provisions have already made for their rehablitation, the government is making their existence permanent by building roads for them."
Panjwani told HT: "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."
The Public Works Department of the Delhi government has sought to build a road inside the sanctuary. The forest department has rejected its proposal and has threatened to “register an offence” if the construction began without requisite approvals.
The PWD in May sought permission to build the road, which was denied. Since then, there have been several meetings among top government officials to “sort out the issue”. When HT visited the site, heavy-duty construction machinery was already stationed there.
The sanctuary is located in the southern ridge, notified as a reserve forest. Wildlife sanctuaries enjoy greater protection. No construction can take place inside them without permission from the national board for wildlife, headed by the Prime Minister.
The ridge is part of the Arawali Mountains and acts as a major buffer against the rising pollution and helps in groundwater recharge in Delhi. Already damaged by mining of quartzite rocks, the ridge is under immense pressure from construction and encroachment.
“It’s a 12-km-long and 10-foot wide road and has always been there. That’s the only way for the people of Sanjay Colony to get out and move towards Chhatarpur. We’re only maintaining it,” PWD executive engineer Jai Singh had told HT recently.
“The budget for the project is R15 crore and work on a 10-km stretch is complete. The remaining 2km that leads to a bus stop towards the forest needs to be done. We’re holding talks on the issue,” he said.
The PWD has admitted that the forest department has sought details such as the road’s type, width and length, besides the year of construction.
The Delhi government has not been able to shift the labour settlement in south Delhi’s Bhatti Mines bordering Haryana despite a court order issued for relocation years ago. The road will help the colony as nearly 13,000 votes are up for grabs.
“We prima facie see merit in the forest department’s stand but we also want to see if there’s a way out,” said a top government official at Delhi Secretariat.
Ravi Agrawal, environmentalist and a former member of the Ridge Management Board, said, “The road shouldn’t be built at all. Problem is that the board has become a land clearance or land diversion body. Conservation of the Ridge is no longer a priority.”
PWD minister Rajkumar Chauhan told HT: "The road construction would not go on without permission."