Despite NGT rap, govt yet to recover prime forest land in the heart of south Delhi

Despite completion of demarcation exercise and issuance of public notices by concerned authorities to encroachers, the situation remains unchanged on the ground due to administrative apathy

The public notice issued by DM (South)
The public notice issued by DM (South)

Rahul Gul

The Delhi government has failed to take possession of dozens of acres of forest land worth hundreds of crores in monetary terms in the urban village of Neb Sarai in the heart of south Delhi despite an order by the National Green Tribunal in a petition filed as far back as 2013 (OA no. 58/2013).

Although an elaborate exercise to demarcate each and every piece of land as forest or gram sabha land has been carried out, and markings affixed to geotag them, no further action has been taken to free the land of encroachments.

In fact, even the process of issuance of public notices has been carried out. The Sub Divisional Magistrate, Saket, issued a notice (no. GS/Forest/2019/1901) dated September 9, 2019 to encroachers to remove all illegal encroachments.

Following this, the office of the District Magistrate, South District, issued a public notice observing that encroachments had not been removed. It again called upon the encroachers to remove encroachments of any kinds from government land within 7 days, failing which, the notice read, the action for removal of encroachments would be initiated by the District Task Force, and the cost of demolition etc would be recovered from the encroachers.

Almost four months later, however, the ground situation remains unchanged.

The notice issued by the DM (no. DIP/Shabdarth/0696/19-20), which was accessed by National Herald, bears a list of nearly 100-odd plots of land measuring anything from 29 bighas to 15-odd bighas, and reportedly includes some plots encroached upon by palatial bungalows built in the tony neighbourhood of Sainik Farms.

Speaking to National Herald, Ishwer Singh, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Department of Forests & Wildlife, Government of Delhi, confirmed that the demarcation process as ordered by the NGT had already been completed using the TSM and DGPS methods in all villages on the Southern Ridge, including 13 falling in south district. “We have already filed an affidavit to this effect in NGT, and each and every piece of land belonging to forest department or gram sabha has been identified and geotagged.”

Asked why the land had not been taken over, he said, “The process of taking possession of land, demolition of properties etc is undertaken by the District Task Force (DTF), which is headed by the DM. There may be some delay due to unavailability of police force etc, but there’s no question of any offender being let off. For more details, please speak to the DM, and DCF (South), who is also a member of the DTF.”

When National Herald spoke to DM (South), BM Mishra, he acknowledged the issuance of the public notice and being seized of the matter. “We will be taking appropriate action soon,” he said.

Asked why the defaulting bungalows had not been demolished yet, he said, “We were not able to do that since the Supreme Court had banned any construction and demolition activities in Delhi NCR in view of the pollution.”

Asked if the delay in the process of recovering the land could be due to influence exerted on concerned officials by vested interests, he said, “No, that is that possible. That is not going to happen.”

Efforts to speak to Saurabh Sharma, Deputy Conservator of Forests (South), did not bear fruit as he could not be contacted despite calls and text messages sent to him.

Despite the assurances given by the PCCF and the DM, the fact remains that as of date, no action has been taken on the ground by the government to recover the land not only in village Neb Sarai but several other villages on the Southern Ridge.

Over the years, environmentalists have stressed on the crucial role played by the Southern Ridge, part of the Aravalli mountain range, as a barrier against the desertification of the city and acting as the city’s lungs.

Incidentally, the India State of Forest Report 2019 released earlier this week contended that Delhi’s green cover saw a jump from 20.6 per cent in 2017 to 21.9 per cent this year, with south Delhi recording the maximum increase in forest cover — 1.28 square kilometre.

Quite clearly, if the government had shown a sense of urgency in recovering all the encroached land on the Southern Ridge, that increase would have been more substantial. Further, the Delhi Department of Forest and Wildlife has also announced setting up of a target of 25 per cent green cover by 2025, which will require an expansion of 6,500 hectares to meet the target.

Now that the date of the Delhi Assembly elections has been announced and the Model Code of Conduct is in force, a further delay in execution of the NGT’s orders is expected till the polls exercise is concluded.

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