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A green legacy that began with the gavel

By, New Delhi
Jul 15, 2023 12:36 AM IST

Two unique parks in the Indian capital of Delhi, themed on atonement and justice, were created as a result of court orders that directed errant residents to plant trees as a sign of penance.

Nestled in the verdant expanse of the ridge in the Capital two unique parks themed on atonement and justice — their lush greenery built not by administrative fiat or citizen activism, but a set of remarkable court orders that devised a novel way for errant residents to signal their penance: planting trees.

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HT Image

Spanning 250 acres, the first of these parks — Maafi Bagh or atonement park — is housed deep inside the heart of the dense southern ridge forest. The second — Insaaf Bagh or justice park — stands in the central ridge area that serves as the green lungs to the most select enclaves of the national capital. Tying these two peaceful, if somewhat disparate spaces that now play host to myriad birds, butterflies and tourists, is a Delhi high court judge, justice Najmi Waziri, who started directing litigants to plant trees as a sign of penance five years ago.

Waziri, who passed 150 such judgments asking various petitioners to plant 3.7 lakh trees over five years, retired from the high court on Friday.

“It seemed like a more prudent way of utilising people’s time and money than by sending the costs imposed on parties into various funds, where they may lie unutilised for decades to come,” justice Waziri said in his farewell address.

“I can say that it has been a very rewarding effort as 3.7 lakh trees have been planted and 20,000 more are in the process of being planted. We have enough money for 2.5 lakh more trees to be planted that is already kept in the escrow account,” he added.

In 2018, Justice Waziri was hearing matters on the criminal side when a plea before him sought the quashing of an FIR against a man booked on charges of attempt to commit culpable homicide. Although the matter had been amicably settled between the parties, the court thought it fit to give the petitioner an opportunity to make amends.

As a result, directions were issued to both the complainant and the petitioner to help the forest department in the maintenance of the forest area in Delhi’s Southern Ridge for two weeks, and to plant 300 trees during that period.

Over time, the initiative transformed both the central ridge — located near Karol Bagh and spread over 864 hectares — and the southern ridge — the biggest section of the Delhi ridge and spread over 6,200 hectares.

The judge roped in the various governmental agencies, including the forest department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), to undertake such drives across the city. The directions prioritised not only the immediate task of planting trees but also the importance of nurturing and protecting them in the long run.

In at least 100 cases, Waziri’s court directed a specific number of trees to be planted in each of these pockets. Maafi Bagh now is home to 28,000 trees while Insaaf Bagh has 66,000 — most of them mango, jamun and Gullar.

‘Regret and atonement’

Cradled in the forests near the Asola Bhati Mines, Maafi Bagh is 10km from the entrance of the southern ridge from the office of the Deputy Conservator of Forest, South Zone. Visitors can only reach the park through e-rickshaws deployed by the administration, or personal vehicles. A large boardpainted green and red welcomes visitors.

“Maafi Bagh is a personification of the sense of regret and atonement which is inherent in quashing petitions. Sometimes seeking atonement for one’s wrong brings peace and to some degree, a closure for the individual. It also lends to the wholesome integration of people in society. Maafi is an atonement, is a value which needs to be reiterated and practised,” it reads, the words quoting justice Waziri’s 2018 order that set up the park.

As one walks inside, neat rows of Jamun, Kadam, Bargad, Mango and Gullar trees greet the visitor, separated by small water bodies, with myriad birds chirping and butterflies wafting nearby. Nilgais and monkeys often amble about, as does the occasional leopard, thanks to the park abutting the Aravalli Ranges, say officials.

In most parks, trees are labelled and have boards next to them describing the species. In both Insaaf and Maafi Bagh, however, a red coloured board affixed nearby announces the title of the cases and their serial numbers, along with the number of trees planted in that case.

For example, a red and green coloured board in Insaaf Bagh marks the case number as well the serial number of the trees planted in a 2020 case, where advocate Aparna Bhat had filed a contempt case against the non-compliance of judicial orders.

After the court ordered a particular litigant to plant trees, officials of the Delhi government’s forest department collected the cash and preferred planting trees in the monsoon.

“ We generally collect the money in a bank account created by the court. We collect the funds throughout the year, and prefer to have the plantation in the monsoon season because the chances of the survival of the plants grows. Plantation can’t be done throughout the year, like for example winters,” said Mandeep Mittal, deputy conservator of forest, south.

The park stands on land that was encroached upon by farmhouse owners and local residents who built shanties; but the plot was cleared after the high court order in 2018.

‘The need for justice’

In contrast to the far-flung Maafi Bagh, Insaaf Bagh stands in the heart of the Capital.To reach it, one has to enter through Gate no-2 of Buddha Jayanti Park in the central ridge area. But visitors are not allowed here in the hopes of making the green cover thick. Here too, a board explains to the visitor the logic behind the park. ”Justice or insaaf was the glue that binds a society together and preservation of the environment and protection of trees and ecology is the duty of each individual. The creation of Insaaf Bagh is a constant reminder of the need for justice in all our affairs,” read the golden words of Justice Waziri, engraved on a marble plaque.

Compared to Maafi Bagh, the monkeys are bolder here, bolstered by the larger packs in which they move around. Trees are more jagged and uneven, the taller ones casting their shadow on the others, denying them precious sunlight. On a muggy day in July, some of the mango and jamun trees have started bearing fruit.

Officials say the land earlier lay barren, bundles of dried twigs standing testament to the lack of life in the soil, before justice Waziri ordered the place cleaned in 2018. “He encourages and motivates us to plant more trees and maintain them well,” said an official, requesting anonymity.

Justice Waziri’s plantation drive continued till his final weeks on the bench. In June this year, he ordered the utilisation of a 80 lakh fine for increasing the green cover of the city.

“Justice Waziri touched the lives of many people and we saw transformation in the working of various departments on the ground. His empathy towards trees which were voiceless in this city reflected in each and every order that was dictated in open court,” said advocate Aditya Narayan Prasad, who has been working closely with justice Waziri for the protection of the trees in the city.

Some other judges appear to have taken a leaf out of his book. The most prominent among them is justice Jasmeet Singh, who has been passing similar orders for planting of trees, instead of quashing FIRs after the amicable settlement of disputes.

Both parks are maintained by the Delhi forest department. Justice Waziri himself has visited the area several times and monitored the progress of the plantations. “He encourages and motivates us to plant more trees and maintain them well,” said an official, requesting anonymity.

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