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Govt told to settle forest rights in 6 months

The Times of India, New Delhi, 16th May, 2013

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the government to settle forest rights in the notified reserved forest areas of Delhi within six months and issue a final notification within nine months.

The notification declaring areas of north, southcentral and southern Ridge as reserved forest was passed by the LG on May 24, 1994 but the necessary steps of demarcating the area, finalization of forest rights and issuance of final notification have not been "taken despite lapse of two decades".

 The court issued these orders while hearing the matter of three illegal roads being built in the Rajokri Forest. A five member Bench headed by NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar has also ordered that no non-forestry activity should be permitted in the reserved forest area which includes dumping of malba. NGT said,"All without exception are hereby prohibited from throwing any malba into the reserved forest area in terms of the provision of the Notification of May 24, 1994. All the malba that has been collected which ought to have been removed by the authorities now shall be removed by DDA and PWD. The expenses for such removal shall
be equally made by both authorities, however the ridge shall be under the charge
of the DDA."

The NGT has also empowered Delhi Police to not only prevent people from throwing malba into the forest area but also to charge Rs 25,000 per truck for removal of the malba. The chief secretary of Delhi has been directed to ensure that the order is implemented. Meanwhile, the DCP of south district has been asked to "ensure complete compliance of these directions and submit interim report on the next date of hearing" which is July 12, 2013. The forest department and DDA have been told to ensure that no unauthorized activity takes place in the reserved forest areas. "They shall also ensure that no destruction of forest by construction of roads or otherwise is carried out " the order says.

The matter of illegal construction of roads in the Rajokri Forest was highlight by TOI in a report on March 27, 2013 and brought to the court's notice by Amicus Curiae Raj Panjwani. He had contended that "complete inaction on the part of the authorities concerned has resulted in destruction and starting of non-forest activity in the reserved forest area", a fact that the court found "duly supported" by documents presented in. The Bench observed that "in fact none of the learned counsel appearing before us has contended that throwing of malba, removal of malba and carrying on non-forest activity has not been permitted by the concerned authorities".

Sources said that once declared as reserved forest, these areas cannot support any non-forest activity without specific permission of the competent authority. However, in several cases including Sanjay Van, Rajokri and the central Ridge, illegal occupation and dumping of waste and malba was being carried out for years.