Consider as representation plea against cutting trees for metro phase-IV: HC to CEC

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New Delhi, Feb 11 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Thursday asked the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), set up by the Supreme Court to look into environment issues, to consider as representation a plea seeking to change from overground to underground the nature of phase IV of metro expansion to prevent cutting of over 11,000 trees.

Justice Prathiba M Singh declined to entertain the petition saying the matter was in the domain of the Supreme Court and CEC and therefore, the petitioners -- a doctor and a lawyer -- have to first approach the committee.

With the direction the court disposed of the plea by Dr P C Prasad and advocate Aditya N Prasad who had contended that felling over 11,000 trees for the project would have an adverse effect on the ambient air quality of the national capital where pollution is at 'critical' levels.

The court declined to hear the matter after the lawyer for Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) said it had filed an application in the apex court regarding the objections towards its expansion and the top court on February 2 had directed the CEC to look into it and file a report within four weeks.

The DMRC lawyer said that the CEC has fixed a meeting on Thursday at 3.00 pm and the petitioners can join the same.

In view of the submission made by DMRC, the court said it will not entertain the petition at this stage and directed CEC to consider the representation of the petitioners.

The court gave liberty to the petitioners to take appropriate legal remedies in future.

In their petition, filed through advocates Ritwick Dutta, Rahul Choudhary and Kanika Sood, the petitioners had sought directions to the authorities, including DMRC, to change the nature of the project from overground to underground to 'preserve and improve the air quality' and 'to ensure that least number of trees are cut in a city like Delhi where the air is already over saturated with pollutants'. The petition had claimed that the phase-IV expansion of the metro which involves three corridors -- Delhi Aero city to Tughlakabad, RK Ashram to Janakpuri West and Maujpur to Mukundpur -- was being constructed on 'deemed forest land' for which no forest clearance has been obtained.

The plea had also claimed that cutting trees in such huge numbers 'will cause irreparable damage and harm to the environment as well as health of the residents of New Delhi'.

It had contended that as per a forest report of 2019 the forest cover of Delhi was only 13.18 per cent of the total area as compared to the required national average of 33 per cent.

'This court must apply the Precautionary Principle to ensure that the least environmentally harmful option is exercised in the present situation. 'The cutting of 11,000 trees in a city which is critically polluted to facilitate the construction of the overground metro, which can also be done underground does not comply with the Precautionary Principle and clearly violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India,' the petition had said. PTI HMP SA