By Baisakhi Roy, Published in Indian Express – Newsline, 27 December, 2005
Far from the political noise raised by MCD’s high-voltage demolition drive, a crucial green zone of Delhi is quietly getting buried under a rising mound of illegal construction.
A recent surprise survey by the Ridge Management Board in Sanjay Van—626 hectares of forest that forms the densest part of the Capital’s Ridge area— has exposed brazen violations of various norms. From illegal roads, parking lots and over 15 ‘‘temples’’ to even a shed that, RMB officials say, is owned by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is solely responsible for maintaining Sanjay Van.
So much so, that Chief Secretary Regunathan, who heads the RMB, wants to review the survey report personally, says Delhi Environment Secretary, Naini Jaiseelan. ‘‘We are well aware that the DDA is turning a blind eye to all illegal activities in this area of the Ridge. It’s atrocious,’’ says Jaiseelan, who is also an RMB member.
RMB members say they had invited the DDA to join them for the survey three months ago, but received no reply. Says RMB member Ravi Aggarwal: ‘‘After repeated communication to the DDA for a joint inspection and not getting a response, we decided to fund one ourselves.’’
The RMB survey found illegal construction in both phases of Sanjay Van: area notified initially, with a lake, opposite the Rehabilitation Council of India (Phase 1) and area notified later, mostly CRPF land, opposite the United Nations Building (Phase 2).
Under fire now, DDA officials admit that the December 8 survey has taken them by surprise and deny the existence of any construction activity in Sanjay Van. But when confronted with photographs that tell a different story, Y P Singh, Director (South Region), Horticulture Department, DDA, told Newsline: ‘‘There are no such roads and if there are, we will look into it.’’
The RMB, comprising government officials and environmental activists, was set up in 1995 to check encroachments and ensure afforestation and preservation in the area. The latest survey was carried out in the forest region from Qutub Institutional Area, extending up to Vasant Kunj on one side and Mehrauli on the other. The southern part of the Ridge area is spread across 6,200 hectares of which 1,577 hectares fall within urban limits. The Sanjay Van is part of the 867 hectares under DDA control.
‘Not aware, don’t know of this, will look into it’
Here’s what survey found, what DDA had to say
Roads and garbage dumps
SURVEY FOUND: Phase 2 area marked by wide, motorable roads—even parking lots—with dumps of construction material lining the sides. Sufficient evidence that more roads are being planned.
DDA SAID: We will look into it.
Plants not for the forest
SURVEY FOUND: Stone-lined roads with Bougainvillea hedges. This “garden plant” cannot be introduced within a forest ecosystem.
DDA SAID: There are no such plants.
Cattle, heavy traffic
SURVEY FOUND: Heavy vehicular traffic, mostly construction workers. Residents from nearby Ber Sarai and Jia Sarai spotted grazing cattle.
DDA SAID: We cannot prevent people from traversing the Ridge
‘Temples’, no permission
SURVEY FOUND: About 15 ‘‘small temples’’, all constructed without permission and maintained by Ram Talab Mandir Committee.
DDA SAID: Not aware. When contacted, officials of the ‘committee’ said: ‘‘We don’t need any permission’’
SURVEY FOUND: Pipelines for Ganga canal through notified area without the RMB being informed
DDA SAID: Ask Delhi Jal Board
(Note: DJB can’t start work without DDA permission)
And guess what
SURVEY FOUND: Single-storey structure used to store DDA’s gardening equipment and manure.
DDA SAID: We don’t know of this shed. How did you get the photograph?