A division bench consisting of acting Chief Justice AK Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw made it clear that no fresh construction would be allowed. “No future construction should take place in the ridge area,” the bench said.
The court passed its order after the Delhi government informed it that no clearance was taken by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to carry out construction activities in the ridge that were threatening the area’s ecology.
Sikri also pulled up the organisations for not only bypassing the objections raised by the forest department but also violating the Supreme Court guidelines on protecting the ridge.
It rejected the contentions of the organisations that the construction of flats was at an advanced stage and so they should be allowed to be completed.
The bench was hearing a public suit filed in 2005 by Naraina village resident AK Tanwar alleging that the DRDO and the BRO had begun construction of residential flats in the protected ridge area near the village in West Delhi.
“We are appalled to find that the defence organisations not only overlooked the objections of the government but also began the construction work in violation of the guidelines of the Supreme Court,” the judges said on Thursday.
Delhi government counsel Najmi Waziri told the bench that while the site of construction was not a part of the reserved forest it was an extension of the same forest area which is highly protected and no construction could be raised there.
The Ridge Management Board (RMB), a seven-member non-statutory body headed by the Chief Secretary of Delhi, also said that no prior sanction had been taken for the construction works.
“None of the organisations under the Defence Ministry have sought any clearance either from the Ridge Management Board or the Supreme Court through the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), before undertaking any construction in the area. Such permission is a pre-requisite in view of the directions of the Supreme Court,” the board said.
The Supreme Court in May 1996 restricted the ongoing construction activities in the ridge.
“…some parts of the ridge have been erased in the central city area. No further infringement of the ridge is to be permitted. It should be maintained in its pristine glory”, the Supreme Court said earlier.
The Delhi government submitted that it had informed the court that the RMB in similar cases in the past had granted clearance to the Delhi Metro for laying of Metro tracks.
“But those activities were carried out outside the notified forest land and the permission for it was also confirmed by the Supreme Court through the CEC,” counsel for the Delhi government said.
While the Central government claimed it had all the required permission and argued that the site in question was actually in the extended ridge area where it was permitted to carry out construction, the Delhi government told the High Court that the land was in the “geological ridge area”, which was highly protected.
The Delhi government said that in its view there should be no construction activity in the area. It informed the court that the land was earlier with the revenue department, but was transferred to the forest department in view of its location.
The High Court sought a response from the two organisations after the petitioner argued that the RMB needed to be kept in the loop on the issue to ensure all permissions had been taken.