SC flays DDA, issues criminal contempt over ridge tree felling

Justice Oka criticised the DDA’s affidavit, stating, “I have never seen a body misrepresenting facts and filing wrong affidavits... There has to be some limit, never before seen.”
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India Photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: In a scathing rebuke on the conduct of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Supreme Court on Thursday issued a criminal contempt notice against the authority’s vice-chairman, Subhasish Panda, for allowing extensive felling of trees in the southern Ridge’s Satbari area to construct a road from Chhattarpur to SAARC University.

A bench of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan expressed dissatisfaction over the misleading affidavit filed by Panda, highlighting the presentation of incorrect statements before court. The court also mandated the planting of 100 new trees for each tree felled by the civic agency.

Justice Oka criticised the DDA’s affidavit, stating, “I have never seen a body misrepresenting facts and filing wrong affidavits... There has to be some limit, never before seen.”

Voicing strong disapproval of the affidavit by the DDA vice-chairman, which stated that 642 trees were cut without his knowledge, the top court said it “cannot trust the DDA now”.

The court observed that tree felling in the area continued for 10 days, a fact suppressed by the agency despite knowing that touching any tree in the ridge area without court permission was prohibited since a 1995 order. Additionally, the court noted that the office of the L-G was misled by DDA officials regarding the felling of trees.

The bench deemed the DDA’s conduct and suppression as interference with court proceedings and administration of justice, issuing a criminal contempt notice.

It directed the DDA to halt all road construction activities and mandated the planting of 100 new trees for each felled tree, with the Forest Survey of India tasked with assessing the damages and submitting a preliminary report by June 20.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had issued a contempt notice to the DDA vice-chairman for felling over 1,000 trees for road construction. The court had previously refused permission to fell 1,051 trees, emphasising the DDA’s duty to protect the environment and examine alternatives before resorting to tree felling. The court instructed the DDA to reevaluate the proposal with expert input to minimise tree felling while carrying out public works.

The top court had said DDA, being an arm of the State, is obligated to first attempt to protect the environment by requesting for felling only those trees absolutely necessary.

‘Misleading affidavit, wrong facts’

The bench expressed displeasure over the misleading affidavit filed by the DDA, ‘presenting wrong facts’. The court noted that felling of trees continued for 10 days, but this was suppressed by the DDA despite knowing the act required court sanction. “Such conduct amounts to interference with court proceedings,” the top court said.

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