Forest Areas Are Lungs Of City; Statutory Authorities Must Make Efforts To Ensure That No Illegal Construction Happens On Public Land: Delhi HC
The Delhi High Court said that the forest or green areas are lungs of the city and hence, statutory authorities must make efforts to ensure that no illegal construction takes place on the public land.
The Court was dealing with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to desist from demolishing or removing the Ashiq Allah Dargah, including the chillagah of Baba Farid and other surrounding historical monuments in Mehrauli or Sanjay Van and to protect such monuments and structures.
A Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet P.S. Arora said, “Admittedly, Mehrauli and Sanjay Van are marked as green/forest areas in the Master Plan. This Court is of the view that green areas are the lungs of the city and efforts have to be made by all statutory authorities to ensure that no illegal and unauthorised construction is carried out on this public land dedicated for public purpose.”
The Bench noted that right to health, right to breathe, and right to heritage and culture must be harmonised and balanced.
Advocate Satyajit Sarna appeared for the petitioners while Standing Counsel Sanjay Katyal appeared for the respondents.
The counsel for the petitioners stated that DDA had demolished adjacent structures in Mehrauli, including the Akhunji Masjid and Haji Rozbih Dargah without issuance of prior public notice and that the demolition of such old heritage structures in Mehrauli took place under the garb of removal of encroachments, despite such monuments being recorded in historical records.
It was further submitted that the area containing the Ashiq Allah Dargah was barricaded by the police and public access was restricted. The counsel also stated that the caretakers of the dargah have been removed from the premises, thus raising serious apprehension of its impending demolition by the authorities.
The High Court in view of the above submissions observed, “… this Court is of the view that undoubtedly life in its expanded horizons includes all that gives meaning to a man’s life, including his culture and heritage and the protection of that heritage in its full measure. … However, this Court takes judicial notice of the fact that Delhi is one of the cities that are worst affected by pollution. No month passes when the Air Quality Index (‘AQI’) does not cross the hazardous mark. According to Doctors, even lungs of young children are being adversely affected.”
The Court took note of the fact that fresh construction has been carried out in the immediate past using blue, green, brown, and white tiles which were not available in the distant past and that some of the structures located in the midst of thick forest have been renovated recently and occupied by certain families.
“This Court is further of the view that the apprehension of mindless demolition expressed by the Petitioners is misplaced as according to the Supreme Court judgment, religious structures such as those mentioned in the writ petition can be demolished only after taking a prior approval from the Religious Committee which is headed by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. Thus, there is adequate safeguard inbuilt into the system”, it remarked.
The Court, therefore, accepted the statements and assurances given by the authorities that no protected monument or national monument declared either by the Central or State authority shall be demolished is fair, reasonable, and strikes a balance between the competing claims/interest.
Accordingly, the High Court disposed of the writ petition.
Cause Title- Himanshu Damle & Anr. v. Delhi Development Authority & Ors.
Petitioners: Advocate Reaa Mehta
Respondents: Standing Counsel Shobhana Takiar, Advocates Kuljeet Singh, Nihal Singh, Legal Assistant Rahul, CGSC Apoorv Kurup, and Advocate Akhil Hasija.