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Importance of protecting trees can’t be overlooked, HC holds PWD officers guilty of contempt

New Delhi, Apr 6 (PTI) The Delhi High Court has held two senior officers of PWD guilty of contempt of court for willfully disobeying and breaching its directions in a case about the chopping of trees in South Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park and observed that the imperative of protecting trees can never be overlooked as the city has witnessed the worst period of air pollution in the past four-five years.

The court also imposed a cost of Rs 40,000 and Rs one lakh on South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and Public Works Department respectively as it was found during the inspection that 13 trees had been damaged in an exercise carried out by SDMC and 10 trees were damaged by PWD and that there was also unlawful concretisation of the earth around the trees.

“The court is also informed that a stretch of a road is dug up by one agency and no sooner before the work ordinarily is completed by that agency, that another agency comes along and digs up the same road yet again. This cycle continues year-round, be it for the work of laying down internet cables, electricity lines, water pipes, telephone cables, etc. Egregious breach of the court’s directions is evident from the photographs shown to the court,” Justice Najmi Waziri said in a 61-page order.

The matter is listed on Thursday for orders on the sentencing of the two PWD officers for the offence of contempt of court.

The court proceeded to hold the officials guilty after both the Engineer-in-Chief and the Executive Engineer had not responded to the court’s show-cause notice.

It was informed that despite a status-quo order passed by the court on February 25, construction work/laying of cables/pipes was continuing at the site, unmindful of the orders and in total disregard to any care or concern for the living trees.

The court was told that the trees have been rooted into the earth for possibly two decades and the work was being carried out on a road maintained by the PWD.

“The imperative of protecting trees can never be overlooked, as the city has witnessed the worst period of air pollution in the past four-five years. The generation of fresh oxygen by trees and their acting as carbon sumps would always mitigate air pollution,” the court said.

The court’s order came while dealing with a plea by New Delhi Nature Society, through advocates Aditya N Prasad and Dhriti Chhabra, seeking to initiate contempt action against the authorities for willful disobedience to the previous orders of the high court and National Green Tribunal which mandated leaving of one-meter kutcha space around trees while undertaking any construction activity.

The plea added that the competent authorities regarding the implementation of laws pertaining to the preservation of trees, in the complete subjugation of their statutory responsibilities, had abetted the said work.

It said the competent authorities, police, and officials, who were responsible for the implementation of laws about the preservation of trees, have abetted the contemptuous work of laying down pipelines or cable lines by BSES Rajdhani.

The court said, “callous and deliberate disregard of the court’s directions and a concerted effort to damage the ecology of the city” is clearly evident from the photographs placed before it and directed the Deputy Commissioner of Police concerned to personally monitor the investigation and file a status report before the next date.

The court, while noting that the PWD has stated that damage to many trees has been done, said it was the department to have ensured that such damage was prevented.

“ (by) Not doing so, it has been complicit in the damage to the trees. PWD itself has re-laid the pavements and created manholes of a 6’x6′ radius around 16 trees. In the circumstances, respondents no. 2 and 3 (Engineer-in-chief and Executive Engineer of PWD), under whose directions and watch the project has been undertaken are held guilty of having committed contempt of court. Let them be present in court on the next date for orders on sentencing,” Justice Waziri said.

As the counsel for Delhi Police submitted that the persons carrying out the digging and other works at the site were warned and a work stop order was served upon them but it still continued, the court said it was always open to the police to initiate action against the erring parties.

Whether it has been done or not, is still not known, the court said and asked the DCP concerned to ensure prompt action is taken.

“An affidavit shall be filed by her/ him in this regard as well as apropos the delay in the initiation of appropriate action against the erring parties by the officer concerned. The affidavit shall be filed before the next date, failing which the DCP shall be present in court,” it said.

The court said it would be in the fitness of things if permission of the tree officer is first taken before initiation of any civil work, which is likely to be made within a distance of two meters from any existing tree, and asked the Chief Secretary of Delhi to pass an order and give a copy to all central government agencies, Commissioners of the Municipal Corporations and CEO of Delhi Cantonment Board.

“As and when a request for police assistance is made by the Tree Officer or a Forest Guard, the SHO concerned shall depute at least two police officers so that there is no threat to the life and limb of the said Tree Officer. The Police Commissioner, Delhi shall issue appropriate directions in this regard,” the court said. PTI SKV RKS RKS

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

Source: The Print

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