Centre, AAP in blame game over permission for felling of trees in south Delhi

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New Delhi, June 23 (PTI): The issue of cutting of trees for the redevelopment of seven south Delhi colonies triggered a blame game on Saturday with Union minister Harsh Vardhan claiming that the AAP government was responsible for granting the permission to fell trees in non-forest areas and the latter claiming that the clearance for the same was issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in November last year.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is up in arms against the BJP government at the Centre, alleging that around 17,000 trees will be felled for the redevelopment plan. Vardhan said according to the information he had, the area where the trees were to be felled was a “non-forest area” and the Forest department of the Government of India had nothing to do with it.

“For the non-forest areas, whatever local permissions are to be given, are given by the Delhi government. It is directly under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government and not governed by us,” the Union environment and forest minister said.

The AAP countered the charge, saying the permission for the felling of trees was granted by Vardhan’s ministry in November last year.

In a tweet, AAP leader Saurabh Bharadwaj said, “IMPORTANT – The file about “Redevelopment Project” says Environment Clearance for the project has been approved by MoEF & CC, GOI (Minister- Dr Harshvardhan ) vide letter dt 27.11.2017 @drharshvardhan ji, Did ur Department give Environment clearance to this project (sic)??.”

He also claimed that the Lieutenant Governor was the “competent authority” for issuing permission for felling trees at a large scale.

The AAP dispensation is at loggerheads with LG Anil Baijal over a host of administrative and policy matters. Baijal has been accused by the ruling party of working at the “behest” of the Centre to “paralyse” the city government.

“Harsh Vardhan has chosen his words very carefully, but he refuses to say that the LG is the competent local authority for giving the necessary permission in this case,” Bhardwaj told PTI.

He claimed that for the felling of a maximum of 10 trees, the deputy conservator of forest had to issue the permission, for a maximum of 20 trees, the conservator of forest had to issue the permission and the environment secretary of the Delhi government could permit the felling of trees in an area of less than a hectare.

“Above it, the LG is the competent authority,” Bharadwaj added. He also claimed that the Delhi government’s environment minister, in his note-sheet, had protested against the felling of trees for the redevelopment plan.

“We have no objection to the Centre’s project. But the felling of such a large number of trees is not good for the environment at a time when there is a looming threat of pollution.”

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs had earlier said 14,031 of the existing 21,040 trees would be felled for the redevelopment of seven south Delhi colonies — Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Mohammadpur, Sriniwaspuri, Kasturba Nagar and Thyagaraj Nagar.

Bharadwaj claimed that the redevelopment plan involved construction of flats for politicians and bureaucrats, for which around 17,000 trees were to be felled.

He added that a protest against it would be held near Sarojini Nagar tomorrow evening.

The locals have launched a “hug the tree” movement on the lines of the famous “Chipko Andolan” of noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna in the 1970s.

Bhardwaj also alleged that the Centre was not addressing the environmental safety concerns before attempting the project.

“As per our information, no environmental assessment has been carried out. The Delhi government has also not been consulted as to how the transport, water and sewer requirements will be met under the redevelopment plan,” he said.

The Centre, however, has claimed that the redevelopment would lead to an “increase in the green area coverage by about three times…and the compensatory plantation of trees will be done in the ratio of 1:10, thereby resulting in an enhanced tree-coverage area”.

“The re-development of the seven colonies is being done with complete adherence to environmental sustainability and green building concepts and special care and attention is being given towards retaining the maximum number of the existing trees,” it had said.

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