Army’s Delhi station gets Forest department notice for damaging trees
The Station Headquarters of the Army (Delhi Area) have run into a conflict with the public works department (PWD) and the Delhi forest department for damaging at least 45 trees along the Ring Road on the periphery of the Rajputana Rifles Regiment Centre and the Army Environmental Park and Training Area (AEPTA), Delhi Cantonment, by carrying out trenching activity in the tree line for construction of a boundary wall.
Forest department officials said the trenching work starts from the Sawai Man Singh Dwar and goes up to the AEPTA. The stretch along the Ring Road is under the PWD, which has served a ‘cease and desist’ notice to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the station area, asking him to stop the trenching work.
“Trenching activitiy within one metre radius of a tree trunk is a violation of National Green Tribunal’s 2015 order as well as of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. It was found that during the trenching work, a total of 45 trees were damaged. The GOC is therefore requested to stop the work in the tree line,” stated the notice issued by the PWD’s horticulture department to the GOC (Station Area) on August 20.
The notice also details the variety of trees damaged, including full grown native trees, such as gular, semal, bargad, shehtut, neem and peepal.
Besides, a report of violations prepared by the Delhi forest department based on its inspection of the stretch on August 7 stated that 27 trees have been “damaged/felled” during the construction activity by the Station HQ of the Army.
The forest department’s report also elaborates on the kind of damage caused to a variety of old and full-grown trees. “The trees have been damaged in an area spread across 4389 square metres. In case of most trees, the roots have been exposed. While five trees have fallen, in some others, the upper and middle parts have been cut. In case of another, only the root stump was found. The trees are located in a line in front of Metro pillar number 45 to pillar number 79,” it said.
According to forest departnemt officials, the construction work is going on despite several reminders intimating the Station (HQ) to stop the work, as the said patch is a ‘deemed’ forest land where no construction activity can be carried out without seeking prior permission for diverting the land from the union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. Carrying out any kind of construction activity in a ‘deemed’ forest amounts to violation of the FCA, 1980.
When HT visited the spot on Tuesday, work was going on in full swing. Deep trenches of about 5-6 feet were dug up in the area while a portion of the green patch has been cleared of trees and has been levelled with earth using heavy machinery. Also, an earth moving machine was mounted on the said patch, damaging the thick growth on the ground. A forest guard had also reached the site and informed the police about the construction activity, however, work on the stretch continued.
The report of violations in the said area prepared by the deputy conservator of forest (West) dated August 19 and sent to the chief conservator of forests (CCF), the nodal officer (for FCA, 1980) in the Delhi government, stated, “The investigation officer (IO) from this office had inspected the stretch on August 7 and reported felling/damaging 27 trees at Ring Road, New Delhi. The IO also informed that he was not allowed to enter the premises of the Delhi Cantt area and was threatened by the contractors at the site.”
The report further said, “As per the records available in this office...it is informed that no such permission has been issued by this office for felling of trees at the area in question. The area is listed as a ‘deemed’ forest by a Supreme Court order. The violated area is under the possession of the PWD, but the working permission has been given by the Army HQ...After considering all facts, it is being reported that prima facie the offence under section (2) of FCA1980, may be committed by Army HQ in the said area by damaging and felling trees here without the permission of Government of India,” it said.
In a response to HT’s query, Colonel Aman Anand, spokesperson, Indian Army, said that the work undertaken is primarily a matter of repairing the wall on certified A1 defence land and no trees have been damaged in the process. “The scope involves recasting of plinth in the existing wall along with raising of height of wall at identified places for augmenting security of army area. The work pertains to repair of an ‘Existing Asset’ and does not involves fresh construction. Further, it is clarified that neither any trees have been damaged in the process and nor any intent for such an act exists within this organization”.
DCF (West) S K Muan Guite said that the Army HQ have been informed to stop the work, as it is a ‘deemed’ forest land and the work is prima facie in violation of the FCA, 1980. “We had issued a restraining order as well. Also, on Monday, the forest staff had reached the site, the local police was informed and directed the contractor to stop the ongoing work. In this case, I have already given a violations report to the Nodal officer of the state,” said Guite.
He added that work was stopped on Tuesday evening. HT was at the site till 4.30 pm until when the work was still going on.
Colonel Anand further said that the work has only been taken up to safeguard the existing assets and enhance security of army installations. “No damage to the environment is foreseen or planned. We as an organisation are fully seized with the concerns and responsible behaviour towards the environment needs,” he said.
As per the Supreme Court order, in Delhi’s context, a deemed forest is one which is spread across an area of at least 1 hectare and the number of trees per hectare is 250 or above. If both conditions are fulfilled simultaneously, the area is considered a deemed forest.
The forest department had first received a complaint regarding the construction work in the tree line on July 23 after which an inspection of the site was taken up by the forest officials on August 7. The written complaint had highlighted that the work besides being in violation of FCA, 1980 is also a violation of National Green Tribunal (NGT) 2015 order that does not allow any trenching activitiy within one metre radius of a tree trunk as well as of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994.
C R Babu, professor emeritus at the Centre for Environment Management of Degraded Ecosystems at Delhi University, said that roadside trees and vegetation must be preserved as they act as a filter against air pollution. “Firstly, no construction activities must be carried out in a tree line or in this case of a deemed forest land. Trees such as gular, bargad, semal and peepal have a high dust-trapping efficiency and play a crucial role in mitigating pollution, in particular, on stretches like the Ring Road, which gets heavy traffic on a daily basis. Trenching activity anyways destroys the root system of the trees, which disturbs the ecology of the area,” he said.