‘The demolition is illegal’

In June last year, citizens complained against the felling of trees in Netaji Nagar and Sarojini Nagar. There was a huge protest against this. It was revealed that there were a series of irregularities related to how the approval for these government housing colonies had been granted. It also meant large scale commercialisation of public land.

But in the light of the rampant air pollution in Delhi, it became a big issue. Some people moved the Delhi High Court, seeking its intervention. And as the case progressed, on October 3, the Court said that there were seven colonies which had become part of an integrated project that has been broken up and for which approvals have been granted. The National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) was ordered to redesign six of these colonies and to go back to the authority for seeking fresh approvals in accordance with the law.

The cause for all this protest is basically that demolition is being conducted by the NBCC in these six colonies, which were sent back for approval, including Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar and other areas. But demolition should not be conducted till the time they take fresh approvals. However, they have gone ahead despite this. It was a clear clause in the Environment Impact Assessment’s (EIA) notification that it is not allowed. Based on that, many activists and others have complained to the Police and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF). The matter will be heard on January 23 and 24.

A few activists went to the NBCC office, but they were not able to produce any document apart from the last order of the High Court, which clearly mentioned that they need to get a fresh approval and proceed in accordance with the law. This means they need to show the redesign and go back to the Ministry. But as of today, the Ministry’s and Delhi’s State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority’s websites show that there has been no progress in getting those approvals. Also, they are supposed to change the design of the project, which requires fresh approval.

This demolition is one part of the overall land change that is going to take place and the issues that have been raised since June last year. It is not a new development, but NBCC has continued to disregard that. Basically, traffic assessment has not been done — which was supposed to be done earlier. Then the water study has not been completed – like where will the fresh water come from. Even the air pollution aspect –the air pollution study has been pending. That is why their continuation of demolition activity, despite not having the approval, is a cause of concern.

Moreover, it is a clear violation of law. One should wait for the matter to settle legally first and then proceed. Several studies on environmental impact, air pollution impact and issues related to tree felling are yet to be addressed and assessed.

Kanchi Kohli works as a legal researcher

— As told to Shruti Das

l A huge protest took place in June last year, over the redevelopment of Six General Pool Residential Accommodation (GPRA) colonies – Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagaraja Nagar, Mohammadpur, Kasturba Nagar, Naoroji Nagar and Srinivas Puri.
l NBCC was pulled up for demolishing residential buildings, as old as the ones built in 1950s, to replace them with high residential buildings, commercial spaces and a World Trade Centre.
l Construction work came to a halt owing to the series of protest and litigations against the proposal to cut 14,000 trees. The forest department also withdrew permission.

‘Trees are home to many creatures’

Environmental clearance was not given to NBCC, but they still went ahead with the demolition. Last time, they plagiarised it and managed to get a clearance. Thus, a contempt cof vourt has been filed against them and action will soon be taken.

In the name of residential project, a lot of space has been given for some commercial purposes. With the high levels of air pollution in Delhi, people should be aware that trees can help control it.

They were planning to cut around 16,000 trees in the heart of South Delhi. But after the protests, they are told to redesign and now the number has gone down by a few thousand. The citizens should also have a say in it. They should give their own suggestions about what kind of development do they want from their city. As taxpayers, they should have a fair chance to participate.

There are many birds which are migrating right now. They are living in these trees. The colonies where they are working has a huge population of monkeys. They also need a home. And these trees have been their home for so many generations. They cannot just take it away. If we start removing all the non-human living creatures out of our lives, including animals, insects, trees and so forth, then we might as well live on the moon. But we cannot, because there is no ecosystem or atmosphere, biodiversity or food cycle, which is all important. If we mess with nature, we will have to pay for it.

Verhaen Khanna is a commercial pilot and also an environmental activist. He is the founder of the New Delhi Nature Society

— As told to Shruti Das

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