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St Stephen’s teachers allege damage to trees on campus, principal says all rules followed

PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2020 11:07 PM IST

New Delhi: Thirteen faculty members of Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College on Wednesday said the college administration has violated forest and tree protection law by causing damage to trees during construction activity on campus. The faculty members also filed a complaint with the Delhi forest department.

In a letter sent to principal John Verghese on Tuesday, the faculty members, who are also on the panel of college’s governing body (GB), said, “We are shocked and dismayed to find that since 22.05.2020 various arbitrary activities have been carried out apparently on your instructions. A very large portion of the front garden of Teacher’s houses A-15 and A-16 has already been trespassed upon and there is illegal encroachment by the construction workers...The trees inside and outside teachers’ flats A-15 and A-16 have been seriously damaged. These are large ancient trees, part of college heritage and beauty, and a vital part of the green cover of the college.”

The principal denied the allegations and said that he had acted in accordance with the college constitution and in response to the approvals sanctioned by the Governing Body.

A senior official at the Delhi government’s forest department on Wednesday said that they had received a formal complaint from the teachers’ body of the college seeking action on “encroachment, felling of ancient trees, fences and hedges during construction activity on campus”.

“In the inspection carried out at the campus by the tree officers, it was found that at least 10 mature trees of different species were damaged while one full-grown tree was pruned without securing any prior permission for the activity. The nature of the offence is grave. We will write to the police enclosing the complaint and photographs of the area and request them to lodge an FIR in the matter,” said a senior forest officer, who did not wish to be named.

The forest officials also said that despite request the college administration did not cooperate with tree officers when they reached the spot for site inspection on Wednesday. The officials said they had to take help from police to enter the college premises. They said there spotted the violations, mentioned above, at the spot.

The forest department had not filed any police complaint until late Wednesday night.

But the principal said, “There are no arbitrary and illegal actions on the college campus in violation of environmental laws, forest and tree protection laws and the constitution of the college... As part of the relaying of the college roads, it was decided by the college on recommendation of the architect that the existing road at the Allnutt side would be slightly widened in order to comply with the safety precautions and regulations with respect to buildings and roads prescribed by the Municipal Council of Delhi.”

Verghese added that Master Plan by the Town Planning Department of the MCD mandates that all internal roads are to be of 6m wide for unrestricted vehicular movement and fire tenders. “Sufficient surface parking needs to be provided to comply with the parking requirements specified by the Town Planning Department of the MCD. As a consequence, the hedges in front of the houses had to be removed and the road slightly widened. I had communicated this matter to all the residents in the area via my email dated 20 May 2020.

He said that the college architect had certified that none of these were in violations of the forest laws, the tree protections laws in the directions/ guidelines issued by the Delhi High Court and the National Green Tribunal.

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