India’s environmental watchdog on Monday ordered the demolition of illegal construction by controversial self-styled godman Asaram’s ashram in the city’s Central Ridge, a year after HT first highlighted the encroachments in the reserved forest.
The order, passed by the National Green Tribunal, will help restore parts of the fast-shrinking forest — key to controlling pollution, recharging groundwater and checking soil erosion in the Capital.
The verdict, however, means more trouble for the jailed godman, behind bars since August last year on charges of rape.
The sprawling ashram now has four weeks to raze all construction done after 2003, plant 1,000 trees and stop dumping garbage and discharging sewage, the NGT said.
“In case of non-compliance, the Delhi government will do so and the ashram will bear the cost. Government authorities will take possession of the excess land without further delay,” the NGT ruled, bringing the 12-month case to a close.
In 1996, The Supreme Court gave 4,312 sq yards to the ashram and an approach path and modified the allotment in 2003. Asaram’s institution, however, continued to construct illegally, resulting in ‘substantial’ encroachments into the Ridge, one of the four protected forest areas in the Capital.
The ashram currently has 10 rooms, a prayer hall and an ayurvedic dispensary, among other things.
The institution was also running commercial activities from the premises, banned by the court inside the forest.
The petition was based on a Hindustan Times report done last year on the basis of RTI applications that exposed how government agencies hadn’t acted against encroachers despite knowing about the prohibited buildings for years.
The tribunal asked the government to submit a compliance report within eight weeks and said no further environmental degradation should happen in the area.
“The ashram will collect and dispose all garbage from forest areas, besides removing its sewage pipeline that leaves a foul smell. The ashram must use septic tanks on its premises with requisite approvals and clean it mechanically and periodically,” the NGT said.
A committee appointed by the green body had earlier said the Ashram’s footprint exceeded the area it was originally entitled to. “The ashram has a residence-cum-office with 10 rooms.
The premises have a lawn, a footpath, a permanent Satsang Pandal and stores books and other religious items — a commercial activity violating the court’s order,” it had said.