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Delhi’s ambitious road revamp plan hits green ministry roadblock

The Delhi government’s ambitious project to redesign 540km of the city roads, along the lines of those in European countries, has hit a roadblock days after the work began, with the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) on Thursday ordering an inquiry against the Delhi public works department (PWD) for allegedly damaging trees and undertaking constructions on a stretch of the Ring Road between Moti Bagh and Mayapuri demarcated as “deemed forest”
By Soumya Pillai, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 27, 2021 12:08 AM IST

The Delhi government’s ambitious project to redesign 540km of the city roads, along the lines of those in European countries, has hit a roadblock days after the work began, with the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) on Thursday ordering an inquiry against the Delhi public works department (PWD) for allegedly damaging trees and undertaking constructions on a stretch of the Ring Road between Moti Bagh and Mayapuri demarcated as “deemed forest”.

Prachi Gangwar, deputy inspector general (forests), regional office of the Union environment ministry, on Thursday sent a letter to the principal chief conservator of forests, Delhi forests department, to file a report on the violations and the action taken against the PWD for violating the Delhi Preservation of Trees (1994) Act.

Delhi government spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment.

“You are requested to submit a factual report based on field inspection in reference of the complaint letter. In case a violation is reported in the matter, action is solicited as per the rules and guidelines of the MoEFCC,” read the letter from Gangwar.

The forest department had on March 12 issued a notice to PWD to stop work on a stretch of the Ring Road between south Delhi’s Moti Bagh and Mayapuri for allegedly damaging trees (during trenching) in an area which is a deemed forest. This stretch is among nine roads that are to be redesigned on a pilot basis, as part of the Delhi government’s “redesigning and street scaping of roads” plan, announced by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in 2019.

Ring Road also features in the original list of areas identified as deemed forest land in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by the Delhi forest department in 1997 in the TN Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India case.

In Delhi’s context, “an area above 2.5 acres having a density of 100 trees per acre as well as stretches along roads and drains having a length of one kilometre,” are considered ”deemed forests”, according to the affidavit.

For any “non-forest related activity” to take place in such an area, permissions have to be sought from the Union ministry of environment, under the Forest Conservation Act (1980).

A senior forest department official said they are conducting inspections on the stretch and added that a detailed report will be submitted before the Union ministry.

PWD officials confirmed that work on the portion of the road has been stopped on the forest department’s orders.

“We have followed all guidelines. Such objections were not raised by the forest department earlier. However, the work on the stretch has been stopped after the notice,” said a PWD official aware of the project, asking not to be named.

CM Kejriwal, this January, conducted a review meeting on the status of the road redesign project and directed officials to finish work by 2023. However, just days after initial work was started, the work was stopped, citing violations.

These nine stretches include redesigning from Mayapuri to Moti Bagh; All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to Ashram; Outer Ring Road from Nigambodh Ghat to Magzine Road crossing; Narwana Road – Mother Dairy to Panch Mahal Awas; Ambedkar Nagar to Defence Colony (BRT corridor); Road number 43 – Britania Chowk to the Outer Ring Road West Enclave; Wazirpur depot crossing (NSP) to Rithala Metro; from Moti Nagar Ring Road T-point to Pusa Road roundabout and Vikas Marg – Laxmi Nagar to Karkari Mor.

The PWD official said the project aims not only at making streets look more appealing, but also envisions to make them more pedestrian and cycle friendly.

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