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While very rightly, rationally and robustly taking judicial notice of the highest-ever temperature recorded in the city at 52.9 degrees Celsius on May 29, the Delhi High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled Neeraj Sharma vs Union of India & Ors in W.P.(C) 7253/2023, CM APPL.66075/2023 & CM APPL. 26752/2024 in which the proceedings were conducted through hybrid mode and that was pronounced ultimately on May 31, 2024 and then finally downloaded from the Delhi High Court Server on 01/06/2024 minced just no words to say in no uncertain terms that the day wasn’t far away when the national capital may only be a barren desert, in case the present generation continues an apathetic view on deforestation. The Delhi High Court has warned that continued deforestation could eventually turn Delhi into a barren desert. It must be noted here that these remarks were made recently by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Tushar Rao Gedela while he was observing and going through the batch of petitions in connections to seeking directions for the protection and management of “deemed forests” in Delhi.

It must also be pointed out here that the remarks of Delhi High Court was made during proceedings on the establishment of a departmental committee for forest preservation in Delhi and to this end in April we had seen that a high powered Committee namely Internal Department Committee was duly constituted for the protection and management of deemed forests in Delhi and Justice (Retd) Najmi Waziri was appointed as the Chairperson as requested by the Delhi High Court on April 4. The compliance report of the directions have to be filed by the respondents on or before 10.07.2024. The main matter has been fixed for July 29, 2024 for being decided.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by the Single Judge Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Tushar Rao Gedela of Delhi High Court sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “Mr. Avishkar Singhvi, learned ASC for GNCT of Delhi and Dr. P. Viswakannan, Chief Conservator of Forests appear through VC Mode.”

prepared by the Department of Forest & Wildlife, Government of NCT of Delhi in accordance with the direction of this Court dated 30.05.2024. The details are in regard to when were the previous meetings held and what transpired therein have been briefly mentioned therein.”

Simply put, the Bench then discloses in para 3 of this noteworthy judgment that, “As per the second report dated 20.05.2024, submitted by the learned Chairperson of the Internal Departmental Committee, the respondent were informed of the requirement of infrastructure, alongwith the Secretarial Support Staff, Transportation, etc., which would be required for learned Chairperson to efficiently discharge the responsibilities referred to learned Chairperson.”

Needless to say, the Bench then states in para 4 of this pertinent judgment that, “Dr. Viswakannan, Chief Conservator of Forest submits that the approval for the said requirements have already been put up to the Minister, General Administration Department of GNCT of Delhi. Subsequent whereto, the said requirement is to be placed before the Cabinet and finally to the Lieutenant Governor for final approval, before the requirements are put in place.”

Do note, the Bench notes in para 5 of this progressive judgment that, “Mr. Gautam Narayan, learned Amicus Curiae refers to Rule 23 of the Business Rules of the GNCT of Delhi and submits that the assignment conferred upon the learned Chairperson was by way of a order of this Court dated 04.04.2024 wherein any requirement, including of Staff and Infrastructure, was also observed and directed. He submits that the order passed by this Court cannot be limited under Rule 23 of the Business Rules as if an order of an Inter-Departmental Officers is being complied with.”

In addition, the Bench while concurring with the learned amicus curiae specifies in para 6 of this precise judgment maintaining that, “Learned Amicus further submits that once this Court had passed an order, the infrastructure and other facilities as required for efficient administration and discharge of the responsibilities upon the learned Chairperson have to be complied with at the earliest and not entangle them with Red Tapism. This Court agrees with the submissions made by learned Amicus Curiae.”

Truth be told, the Bench then lays bare in para 7 of this refreshing judgment holding that, “In fact, Mr. Aditya N Prasad, had handed over the Court a short abstract of the second report submitted by the Committee wherein there is a suggestion that in the meanwhile in case it is getting delayed for some reason, the Staff and the Infrastructure can be provided in a diverted capacity, until proper arrangements are made.”

Be it noted, the Bench notes in para 9 of this remarkable judgment that, “This Court cannot countenance a situation where the learned Chairperson is unable to discharge the responsibilities on account of lack of an Office Space or a Secretarial and Support Staff or even Transportation. However, rather than directing the Department to provide Staff in a diverted capacity, it is considered appropriate to direct the Department to pursue the matter in all earnest and in no case shall the approval be delayed beyond 15.06.2024.”

It is worth noting that the Bench notes in para 10 of this pragmatic judgment that, “Consequent to the said approval being granted by the Competent Authority, the Infrastructure Development should, in all earnest be completed within the next 15 days thereafter. Since, the next date of hearing is already fixed for 29.07.2024, it is expected that all things and requirements of the learned Chairperson as also the Committee, shall be put in place and in full working condition, prior thereto.”

It ought to be noted that the Bench notes in para 11 of this notable judgment that, “The suggestion of Mr. Prasad in renaming the Committee is well taken. In place of referring the Committee as “Internal Departmental Committee”, it be called as “Special Empowered Committee” (In short “SEC”). Another reason for renaming would be that the name “Internal Departmental Committee” gives a picture as if the Committee and the learned Chairperson is within the Department’s purview, whereas it actually is not. This Court is clear in its mind that the “Special Empowered Committee” is a Committee which has independent reference powers as conferred on it and will discharge its responsibilities accordingly.”

It cannot be glossed over that the Bench then lays bare in para 12 of this persuasive judgment pointing out that, “Even in the second report submitted by the Chairperson, it is apparent that Officers from Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Land and Development Office, Central Public Works Department and Delhi Cantonment Board have not been attending the meetings.”

Quite forthrightly, the Bench directs in para 13 of this courageous judgment that, “It is made clear once again that all the concerned Officers of the concerned Departments are directed to attend all the meetings as and when called for, except in special circumstances in which they are unable to attend so. However, the learned Chairperson be given prior intimation as to their inability to attend the particular meeting.”

For the sake of clarity, the Bench then clarifies in para 14 of this rational judgment that, “The aforesaid strict measures are only for the purpose of ensuring that the Committee completes its responsibilities and references made to it in all earnest, keeping in view the worsening situation of climatic conditions in Delhi.”

Most significantly, most remarkably and so also most forthrightly, the Bench then propounds in para 15 of this notable judgment what constitutes the cornerstone of this brilliant judgment holding and directing that, “Judicial notice is taken of the fact that as recent as on 30.05.2024, the official temperature recorded in Delhi was 52.3 degree Celsius. It is not far to see the day when this City may be only a barren dessert, in case the present generation continues an apathetic view on the deforestation. Having said that, the aforesaid directions to be complied with in strict timelines.”

What’s more, the Bench then further directs in para 16 of this succinct judgment that, “The compliance report of the aforesaid directions be filed by the respondents on or before 10.07.2024.”

Not stopping here, the Bench then further hastens to add stating in para 17 of this wonderful judgment specifying that, “Documents handed over the bench are taken on record.”

Finally, we see that the Bench then concludes by holding and directing in para 18 of this holistic judgment that, “List these matters on 29.07.2024, the date already fixed.”

In a nutshell, we thus see ostensibly that the Delhi High Court has minced just no words to make it indubitably clear holding thereby precisely as a precautionary warning clearly that day is not far when city may only be a barren desert. It thus merits no reiteration whatsoever that urgent steps on a war footing as are warranted must be taken immediately so that deforestation is checked promptly as is the crying need of the hour also! It definitely brooks no more delay any longer! There can be just no denying or disputing it!

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June 2024