Sub: EIA of ÒpopularÓ illegal projects in Delhi ridge / riverbed in context of national environment policy

Letter of 06.09.04 to Secretary MoEF seeking clarification about EIA clearance of ridge and riverbed area projects, with reference to Draft National Environment Policy (up for comment) and to reported NGO "criticism"

Secretary, MoEF

Sub: EIA of “popular” illegal projects in Delhi ridge / riverbed in context of national environment policy

Dear Sir,

According to an Express Newsline report of 04.09.04, some NGOs have expressed concern about how MoEF has been “handling environmental issues” and called for “increased interaction between the government and the people” and “an independent monitoring body”. Another Express Newsline report of 04.09.04 says Supreme Court has made an exception to allow Mr Bhure Lal to continue as EPCA chairman while also being appointed as member UPSC. Meanwhile, Express Newsline has not cared to provide clarification about its report of 17.08.04 saying CEC has “cleared” the Malls-and-Park project in Vasant Kunj pursuant to (independent) engagement by these NGOs (in conflict with people’s own interactions with government by due processes inclusive of sub-judice PIL, in disregard of which a thousand families were illegally evicted on 29.07.04 for this illegal project). And Hindustan Times has on 05.09.04, as “Capital Story”, a report-cum-promo on the illegal project.

On the riverbed, likewise, Express Newsline reported on 24.08.04 that an illegal project being called Biodiversity Park (which NGOs appear to be promoting while creating ‘furore’ about other projects, as per The Hindu of 23.08.04) is also connected to (illegal) mall-type ideas. In selective compliance of a court order for clearance of all riverbed encroachments slums have been cleared to benefit illegal projects. While ‘furore’ is created over fully built Temple and yet to start Games Village, there is curious silence about the metro depot site (for which Public Notice for change of land use of 52 Ha of riverbed for transportation was issued in December 2002 after the depot, where trains are washed with ground water notified for drinking, was already built and where non-transportation development has lately started for IT Park, etc, in conflict also with proposal in subsequent Public Notice for metro property development). Meanwhile, no one has cared to respond to suggestions, by and on behalf of riverbed cultivators within ambit of statutory right to participate in planned development, about urban agriculture rather than touristy-greens being more apposite response to imperatives of Delhi’s ridge-river ecosystem. And now Pushta cultivators in settlements up to a century old are facing illegal eviction in name of environment for benefit of illegal projects apparently also with no EIA.

I am unaware of what NGOs / media find lacking in government and who, besides themselves, they (or government) consider “people” for purposes of “interaction”. On questions of illegalities in terms of existing environment and development law, NGOs, media and government alike are conspicuously silent about gross violations. Hopefully this is not the brand of “participation” contemplated by draft national policy posted on MoEF website for comment that, like other draft national policies of recent vintage, neither fully acknowledges existing opportunities under sovereign law nor proposes safeguards against exclusionary “participation” to detriment of holistic assessments of imperatives, as currently evident on Delhi ridge and riverbed (an ecosystem that, while not quite comparable with the Taj or Tiger or Valley of Flowers in common perception is arguably what the draft policy calls “incomparable entity”, central to the city’s life-support system in terms, especially, of water).

From a cursory reading of the draft policy, it appears to me that I can request also in its context MoEF to intervene in securing what is, in any case, an imperative of Delhi Development Act, 1957, viz, stopping all ad-hoc and illegal initiatives on Delhi ridge and riverbed till they have been adequately considered to satisfaction of all stakeholders, especially those facing eviction in name of environment. I seek at least, with urgency, the following:

  1. response to my letter of 01.09.04 (encl.1) about EIA of illegal projects in ridge area so that citizens whom I advise can place relevant facts before the court in their PIL.
  2. response to my letter of 22.04.04 (encl.2) about Pushta cultivators along with information about EIA of new construction illegally being carried out on riverbed, notably on metro depot site and on touristy-green schemes, since I wish to add facts to my responses to Public Notices pending disposal and representations forwarded by President’s Secretariat for appropriate action.

Thanking you and looking forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely

Gita Dewan Verma, Planner