Forest dept pulls up municipal agency over synthetic tracks at Nehru Park

Deputy conservator of forests (south division), Amit Anand, issued a notice to the NDMC on December 17 stating that Nehru Park is a deemed forest, which means that any non-forest activity, such as construction is not permitted and also in violation of the Forest Conservation Act (1980).
A synthetic track for walkers and joggers at Nehru Park in New Delhi, India.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
A synthetic track for walkers and joggers at Nehru Park in New Delhi, India.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
Updated on Dec 23, 2020 12:31 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Soumya Pillai and Ashish Mishra

The Delhi forest department has sent a notice to the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) for constructing a 22-metre synthetic jogging track at Nehru Park, which is identified as a deemed forest by the forest department. Senior forest department officers who did not wish to be named said that the unauthorised construction will have to be removed failing which they would take legal action.

Deputy conservator of forests (south division), Amit Anand, issued a notice to the NDMC on December 17 stating that Nehru Park is a deemed forest, which means that any non-forest activity, such as construction is not permitted and also in violation of the Forest Conservation Act (1980).

The order has also cited a 1997 Supreme Court judgment that prohibits such activity in a deemed forest.

The notice was issued following a complaint filed by environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari on December 7, bringing the forest department’s attention to the violation. HT has seen a copy of the notice.

NDMC, as a pilot project, created a 22-metre long synthetic jogging track in the park around seven months back. However, early this month the municipality started work on adding another 2.5 kms of this track citing “positive response from the public”.

The work on this was underway and has been stopped after the civic agency received the notice.

The notice issued to the NDMC read, “...Nehru Park is located within a ‘deemed forest’ and any non-forest activity, means the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion thereof for any purpose other than re-afforestation, is a violation of the Forest Conservation Act.”

“...the NDMC is directed to furnish within 60 days of receiving the notice, why a complaint should not be filed in court,” the notice added.

In Delhi’s context, “an area above 2.5 acre having a density of 100 trees per acre as well as stretches of along roads and drains having a length of one kilometre,”is considered a deemed forest. Any construction activities in such area requires permissions from the union ministry of environment, forest and climate change under FCA.

Such work also requires the usual permissions under the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994.

Nehru Park, which is located in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri, was inaugurated in February, 1965 by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, and is spread across 80 acres.

A senior forest department of the official said that it is mandated under the FCA act that the erring agency be given time to respond to the official notice. However, along with an official response, NDMC will also have to remove the tracks that have already been laid out.

“Any activity that will disturb the ecology of a marked deemed forest is prohibited. Permissions need to be taken from the Centre and forest department for it. It is high time land-owning agencies such as NDMC are held responsible for their actions,” the official said.

However, a senior NDMC official explained that the jogging track was constructed for the benefit of scores of walkers and joggers who visit the park through the day. The municipality had been receiving complaints of users getting hurt on the uneven surface of the park’s older albeit natural track.

BM Mishra, secretary NDMC said the ecology of the park was not hampered in any way during the construction of these tracks.

“Nehru Park is popular among walkers and many senior citizens come to walk here. There are stones, uneven surface and dusty patches in the existing track, which not only create problems for walkers, but also contribute to dust pollution in the area. By creating a synthetic track, we have tried to provide a better walking and jogging facility for users without disturbing any greenery in the park. We will examine the forest department notice and respond accordingly,” Mishra said.

Environment lawyer, Aditya Prasad, said government agencies consider the environmental aspects before undertaking infrastructure development.

“Nature blindness is a serious phenomenon and it is spreading like wildfire. It is appalling that despite Delhi experiencing such high pollution levels for the most part of the year, government agencies do not understand the importance of protecting trees. Destruction of trees in an urban context has a direct and proportional impact on air pollution. I wonder if the next generation will be able to forgive this apathy,” Prasad.

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Monday, October 18, 2021