Questions over Ridge board’s regular nod to projects on Delhi’s forest patch | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

Questions over Ridge board’s regular nod to projects on Delhi’s forest patch

Jan 25, 2024 09:47 PM IST

The Ridge Management Board (RMB) in Delhi has come under scrutiny for granting swift approvals to construction projects in the protected green space. An analysis by HT revealed that 77% of the proposals placed before the RMB since 2021 were approved, while expert members of the board have not been invited to meetings since 2021. The approvals have drawn criticism from the Delhi high court, which questioned whether the RMB is truly meant to protect the Ridge. The Ridge is an important green space in Delhi and serves as a habitat for various plants, birds, and animals.

On December 11, the Ridge Management Board (RMB) , a body constituted in 1995 for the protection of the Ridge approved, in one part of it, the 864-hectare Central Ridge, a new road and a forest department HQ. These approvals came after proposals for five construction projects were placed before the body; four got the nod, while the fifth was deferred .

New Delhi, India - Aug. 4, 2023: A view of Central Ridge from Malcha Mahal , in New Delhi, India, on Friday, August 4, 2023. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times) Pics for Jasjeev Story) (Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - Aug. 4, 2023: A view of Central Ridge from Malcha Mahal , in New Delhi, India, on Friday, August 4, 2023. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times) Pics for Jasjeev Story) (Hindustan Times)

The approvals drew the ire of the Delhi high court, which questioned whether RMB was meant to protect the Ridge, or was actually a “ridge dissolving board”.

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Now, a HT analysis has revealed that approvals are the norm for RMB, which has a precedent of granting swift okays to projects in the protected green space. It also emerged that expert members of RMB have not been invited to meetings since 2021.

HT reached out to the Delhi’s chief secretary, principal chief conservator of forest, and principal secretary (environment and forest). None of them commented on the matter

The Ridge in Delhi, spread over an area of 7,800 hectares, is an extension of the Aravallis and it is divided into four distinct zones —the Northern Ridge (87 hectares), the Central Ridge (864 hectares), the South Central ridge (626 hectares), and the Southern Ridge (6,200 hectares).

The Ridge acts as the green lungs of Delhi — it is an important source for oxygen, and carries out carbon sequestration and dust mitigation. In addition, this green space also acts as the habitat for several plants, birds, and animals native to the Capital.

The southern Ridge – the largest of Delhi’s Ridge areas — plays a particularly important role in protecting Delhi from hot, dusty winds blowing in from Rajasthan.

RMB was formed after a Delhi high court’s order in 1995 in MC Mehta vs Union of India & others. RMB has to clear all construction or development work in the Ridge . The body also has oversight of the so-called geo-morphological Ridge — areas not demarcated as the Ridge, but displaying ridge-like features.

A perusal of documents, including minutes of meetings held by RMB since 2021, reveals that 22 development and construction-related proposals were placed before it over a period of three years, with 17 projects — 77% of the total — being approved. Another four proposals , 18% , were deferred and only one proposal – the construction of 100 2BHK and 3BHK flats in the Ridge area of Vasant Kunj — was rejected .

The 17 projects that were cleared will affect around 59.68 hectares of Ridge land, the documents reveal.

What cases has RMB approved?

In a meeting on March 12, 2021, the proposals for 10 construction projects in the Ridge were placed before RMB, of which six were approved ; these span an area of 23.69 hectares across Delhi’s morphological, Southern and Central Ridge.

These included the construction of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade at Maidangarhi (0.46 hectares), a world-class skill centre and the Delhi Skill University at Jaunapur (15.02 hectares), the construction of the School of Planning and Architecture at Vasant Kunj (8 hectares), and a storage-cum-residential complex at RTR Marg, Vasant Vihar (0.17 hectares).

Discussion on three projects was deferred ; one of these was the construction of a new lab by the Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) near JNU.

One project was rejected — a proposal for 100 2BHK and 3BHK apartments in Masoodpur near Vasant Kunj — with the body citing the fact that no housing should be allowed within forest areas.

To be sure, this is the only proposal that RMB has rejected since 2021.

The second meeting held that year, on June 9, 2021 , took up one project: the construction of the Silver Line of the Delhi Metro. The body sought more details from the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), and the proposal — affecting around 12.9 hectares of the Southern Ridge — was approved in the next meeting held on July 19, 2021.

Only one meeting was held in 2022 , on July 15 , during which two construction proposals were placed before RMB. One of these projects , a proposal for an office building for the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in Vasant Kunj, covering 0.61 hectares of the Southern Ridge , was approved, while a second proposal — for a construction and demolition (C&D) waste facility at Tehkhand, part of the morphological Ridge — was deferred.

RMB held two meetings in 2023. The first, on September 18, saw five out of six proposals placed before the body being approved. One of these was the construction of IUAC lab near JNU. A total of 16.5 hectares of Ridge area will be used for these projects, which includes the construction of two roads through the Southern Ridge.

In the second meeting on December 11, 2023 , the most recent meeting of RMB held , four of the five proposals tabled before it were approved. Apart from the new road and forest department headquarter that drew the ire of the Delhi high court, the construction of an office building for the Directorate General, and a central record office of ITBP were also approved.

Who are members of RMB?

RMB was most recently reconstituted in 2021 with eight members. A gazette notification dated March 1, 2021, shows that the body is headed by the Delhi chief secretary as its chairman, the principal chief conservator of forests as its member secretary, and four other bureaucrats as members — the Delhi finance secretary, the Delhi Development Authority vice chairman, the principal secretary (environment and forest), and the UT’s chief conservator of forests.

The body also has two expert members — Sohail Madan, formerly of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and Vivek Menon, the CEO of Wildlife Trust of India.

Minutes of the meeting since 2021 show that the Delhi chief secretary has skipped most of these meetings, which have therefore been headed by the principal chief conservator of forests. Since 2021, the expert members have also not attended the meetings.

Both expert members said they have not been invited for the meetings since 2021. “I have not taken part in any meeting of RMB. I was invited twice in 2021, but was not available and have since not received invites,” Menon said, stating he was unclear about his status as a member.

Madan confirmed the same, and said he last attended a meeting in 2021.

Bhavreen Kandhari, an environmental activist, said RMB’s primary role — similar to the forest department — is to protect the Ridge. However, most projects placed before the body were being allowed, she said.

“Projects are being deemed essential and are being allowed to be built within the Ridge. They are also being approved when the expert members are missing, which raises further questions on why this is being done.”

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