DDA shielding ‘higher-ups’: SC on tree-felling

The court was addressing a contempt plea alleging that trees were cut in the Ridge despite a March 4 court order denying the DDA permission, and concealing the information from the court.
DDA shielding ‘higher-ups’: SC on tree-felling

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reprimanded the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for its failure to furnish information regarding Lt Governor (L-G) VK Saxena’s visit to the Ridge area, where 1,100 trees were felled. The court observed that the authority was protecting senior officials by diverting blame on subordinates.

A vacation bench comprising Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan condemned the DDA for its “absolute recklessness” in failing to find a document confirming Saxena’s visit on February 3.

“This is absolute recklessness. You cannot find a simple document. Nothing has been done, no meeting of the officers has been called... we have all the doubts in the way things are done,” stated the bench.

Slamming the DDA for protecting ‘higher-ups’ over the tree-felling in the Ridge, the SC said, “When the e-mail says the L-G has visited and ordered the cutting of trees, was it not the function of the DDA to look into it? The object of the committee is only to protect the higher-ups and blame the lower officers like junior engineer or executive engineer,” it added.

The court was addressing a contempt plea alleging that trees were cut in the Ridge despite a March 4 court order denying the DDA permission, and concealing the information from the court.

DDA vice-chairman’s counsel informed the court that the agency was attempting to locate the records, stating that L-G Saxena had visited a hospital for the central armed paramilitary forces and not the contested site, and requested more time to submit the documents.

“The DDA could not obtain information on the record of the site visit of the L-G on February 3, 2024. The counsel for DDA seeks time. We don’t think that the request for time to find such simple information is bona fide,” the court held.

The DDA counsel identified Ashok Kumar Gupta, member of the engineering team, as the officer present during Saxena’s visit. The court directed Gupta to file a detailed affidavit on what “exactly transpired” during the L-G’s visit, and state if any directions were orally issued by the L-G.

“We make it clear that Gupta files it (affidavit) not in the capacity of a DDA officer but as an officer of this court,” the bench clarified.

The court also instructed the Delhi government and civic bodies to hold a meeting to discuss comprehensive strategies for enhancing the city’s green cover. The court also expressed concerns about the loss of tree cover and its impact on the city’s temperature.

“Considering the illegal and high-ended acts of the felling of trees, we issue notice to Govt of Delhi, Forest and Environment Department, Tree Authority, MCD and DDA. The Secretary of the Forest Department will convene a meeting of all these officers in presence of the expert committee appointed for discussing the comprehensive measures for enhancing the green cover of national capital Delhi,” the bench said.

‘How did timber vanish?’

The court expressed surprise at the authorities’ inability to locate the timber from the trees felled in the Ridge area. “When we made a query about the timber felled, the officer of the DDA had no response… We are a hundred percent certain that the timber must be taken away by the contractor,” the bench observed.

‘Hold govt-agency meet’

The top court while issuing notices to the forest department and tree authority of the city government, the MCD and DDA, directed the government and civic bodies to hold a meeting to discuss comprehensive strategies for enhancing green cover. The court also expressed concerns over the loss of tree cover and its impact on the city’s temperature.

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