The Delhi High Court today directed that status quo be maintained with regard to the redevelopment of seven south Delhi colonies till the Centre reconsiders the environment clearances given to projects in six of them which had involved felling of around 16,500 trees.
A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao said it wants to know the outcome of the Centre's review of the clearances before dealing with the matter and directed the central government to submit a report within two weeks about outcome of the reconsideration.
The court also declined the interim plea moved by the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) seeking permission to continue with its work at Nauroji Nagar, one of the seven colonies, where a commercial hub, including a World Trade Centre, has been planned.
The court was hearing several PILs that have challenged the terms of reference (ToR) and the ECs granted to the housing projects at the seven colonies claiming that it would result in the felling of around 16,500 trees.
The bench said today that on the last date it had allowed NBCC to ensure that the excavations at the site do not lead to collapse of the adjacent Ring Road due to rainwater and apart from that no other work can be carried out there.
"Status quo be maintained till you (Centre) reconsider the clearances granted to the work at the six colonies (excluding Nauroji Nagar)," the court said and directed the central government to submit a report within two weeks about outcome of the reconsideration.
The bench made it clear it was not just looking at the cutting of the trees, but also how clearances were granted for the redevelopment work in the six colonies of Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagaraja Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Mohammadpur and Srinivaspuri.
It said it will not allow the work to be continued piecemeal independent of others as it was one whole project.
With the observations, the bench listed the matter for further hearing on October 3.
Meanwhile, applications were filed by the Delhi government and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) seeking clarification from the court whether its July 4 order prohibiting felling of trees applied to the entire national capital or just the seven colonies.
The SDMC said it needs to cut 203 trees near Okhla to set up a waste processing plant, but was not getting permission from the forest department due to the high court's order.
The Delhi government in its application has said that several important projects, including that of metro, were being held up due to the July 4 order of the high court and sought a clarification.
The bench said it will hear both applications on September 6 to the limited extent that it does not infringe any orders passed by the Supreme Court on the issue of cutting trees.
The court also said that the travel expenses of amicus curiae Gautam Bhan, an urban planning expert from Bengaluru, would be borne by the NBCC.
The high court on August 16 had asked the Centre why the redevelopment work should be allowed after the bench was told that the clearance for the project was granted on the basis of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report that had "copy-pasted" its contents from another project report in Tamil Nadu.
The bench had said if it allowed the project to go ahead and later it was found that the environment clearance (EC) was wrongly granted, everything would have to be started afresh, "leading to wastage of public money".
Bhan had told the bench the EIA report for Nauroji Nagar contained several portions "copy-pasted" from the EIA report seeking clearance for a mine in Tamil Nadu and based on it, the EC was granted to fell trees and go ahead with the work.
Pointing out that the names of lakes in Tamil Nadu were mentioned in the EIA report for Nauroji Nagar, Bhan had said it clearly showed "non-application of mind".
The NBCC, on the other hand, had claimed that these were "typographical errors".
The bench was not convinced by the NBCC's explanation and had said even the presence of such typographical errors showed non-application of mind.
Bhan had also told the bench that the entire redevelopment project of the seven colonies was integrated and therefore, an integrated EC was required and not separate clearances, as granted in the instant case.
The NBCC is executing the project along with the Central Public Works Department (CPWD).
The court had earlier said "we cannot compromise on environment, no matter the cost".
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)