How can the national capital afford the felling of more than 16,500 trees for a housing project, the Delhi High Court asked on Monday.
Taking note of the views expressed by the court which appeared inclined to order an interim stay of the tree chopping process, the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), tasked with redeveloping half a dozen south Delhi colonies, agreed not to cut any tree till July 4.
The NBCC made the statement after a vacation bench of Justices Vinod Goel and Rekha Palli asked,"Can Delhi today afford cutting down of so many trees for a housing complex? We could understand if it was a road-widening work which is inevitable."
It initially asked NBCC to "stay its hands" till July 2 when a similar issue would be heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and asked the petitioner, an orthopaedic surgeon, to approach the tribunal.
The court's observations came after the NBCC said the NGT had the jurisdiction to hear pleas challenging environment clearances (EC) granted to any project by the Centre.
NBCC, represented by senior advocate J P Seng, told the court that it has also deposited Rs eight crore with the tree authority for permission to fell trees.
Central government standing counsel Ripudaman Bhardwaj, appearing for ministries of Environment and Housing, said the ECs given by the Centre were in accordance with the earlier orders of the NGT.
However, the petitioner's lawyer told the bench that the matter also involved permission given in November last year by the tree authority of the Delhi government to fell the trees and this decision cannot be challenged in the NGT.
Thereafter, the court gave the petitioner, Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra, time till July 4 to amend his plea and challenge the tree authority's decision.
Since the court appeared inclined to give an interim order till the next date, NBCC made a statement that no tree will be felled till then. The court also made the tree authority of Delhi government a party in the matter.
The PIL has sought setting aside of the terms of reference (ToR) and EC granted to the project by the Environment Ministry, saying it would lead to felling of over 16,500 trees.
The six south Delhi colonies where the trees would be felled are Sarojini Nagar, Naoroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagaraja Nagar, Mohammadpur and Kasturba Nagar, the petition has said.
According to the petition, the separate ECs for each area were granted between November last year and June this year.
The petition has claimed that planting of saplings in another location as compensatory afforestation would not reduce the burden which would be put on the environment due to the large-scale felling of trees.
It has claimed that saplings would be a "poor substitute" for the fully grown trees that would be felled for the housing projects.