DDA officers’ role in approving Vasant Kunj mall under scanner

Source: The Hindu, 10 August, 2006

With the Ministry of Environment and Forests acknowledging before Supreme Court that the entire Vasant Kunj mall project was illegal as it had come up on Ridge land, which is a water recharge zone, in violation of the Master Plan for Delhi, and that Delhi Development Authority did not exercise necessary environmental caution while taking up the plan, the role of senior DDA officers has come under scrutiny.

Demands are now being made by environmentalists to identify and prosecute the senior DDA officers who made the project in contravention of the law, thereby doing immense harm to the fragile ecological system of the Ridge. Also, the dereliction is all the more profound since there are clear laws and plans that govern development of Delhi.

The petitioner in the case, Onkareshwar, said the stand of the citizens and environmentalists who had raised serious objections over the last two years against the construction of shopping malls in Vasant Kunj stood vindicated by the latest affidavit filed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the Supreme Court. “The Ministry has admitted that the topography of the sites of Vasant Kunj Malls is of Ridge. They have also established the environmental value of the area, particularly, as a ground water recharge zone.”

Stating that the Ministry has blamed DDA for not exercising environmental caution by developing this area, Mr Onkareshwar said the Ridge Bachao Andolan would now be filing a plea under the Right to Information Act for knowing the names of the officials who formulated the plans for the project and because of whom the violation took place.

Since the Ministry has accepted that the location of a large commercial complex in Vasant Kunj Ridge area is environmentally unsound, and giving clearance to such a project even with conditions attached is largely a compromise with the de-facto situation, Mr Onkareshwar said instead of targeting the bona fide buyers of the land, those who sold it need to be prosecuted. He lamented that the “country’s next environmental policy is to give priority to the protection of investors rather than the environment.”

Noted environmentalist Rajendra Singh said since the ground water situation is fast deteriorating in the Ridge area of Delhi, keeping in mind the Prime Minister’s suggestions on ground water sanctuary, the Ridge area as a whole should be declared a ground water sanctuary.

Secretary of Nyayabhoomi Rakesh Agarwal said now that “everybody agrees here, including all wings of the government, that the laws have been flagrantly violated, if the malls in Vasant Kunj still manage to get the sanction to recommence construction, this would tantamount to putting a premium on illegality.”
Charging that different yardsticks exist for the rich and the poor, Diwan Singh of Ridge Bachao Andolan said: “The idea of a compromise by the Government on this matter makes us wonder why the jhuggis are uprooted in the name of environment. It is also a message to the land mafia to go ahead with illegal construction as they will definitely get a compromise solution from the Government.”