Forests are “Delhi’s green lungs” and the only saviour from pollution and thus should be “restored”, the Delhi High Court said on Thursday said while expressing concern over unauthorised constructions, including encroachments in the name of religious structures. The high court said people are unable to breathe here and are dying because of pollution and nobody can be permitted to stay in forest areas and they need to be evicted.
“Let the forest be restored. Today where will you find more forests? So the existing ones must be preserved. These are the green lungs of Delhi. Have a heart. Be human. Understand that people are dying because of pollution. This is our only saviour. This is our last bastion.
“We will not be able to breathe, What will you see? How will you enjoy the heritage if you can’t breathe in the city? Let them breathe. Enough peers, dargahs and temples are there. Enough. We have more than sufficient,” a bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora said.
The court’s observations came while hearing a public interest litigation seeking that ancient monuments, particularly Ashiq Allah Dargah in Mehrauli, be protected from demolition.
It was the petitioners’ case that the dargah dates back to 1317 AD and is one of the earliest and most important Sultanate era structures in the country and includes the chillagah of Baba Farid, the revered 13th century Sufi saint. While looking at the pictures, the bench said these are new tiles put on the structure there and it has been developed as a sightseeing place where more and more people come.
Advocate Satyajit Sarna, representing petitioners Himanshu Damle and Seela Manaswinee Mahapatra, submitted that for hundreds of years if something has been used as a place of worship obviously it goes through changes. We are talking about 800-year-old sites and they are even older than these forests, he claimed. The court, however, did not agree with it and said this was very unfair and all this was being given some sort of a slogan.
While looking at some of the photographs annexed with the petition, the court said there is a proper dense colony constructed in the middle of forest.
As the lawyer maintained that the structure was ancient, Justice Manmohan said they are certainly not ancient and are clearly fresh constructions.
“This is being expanded on a very lavish scale. We have seen in Delhi how unauthorised construction starts, this is not something which is being done. No person will be allowed to stay there and they will have to move out. This will not work and people should not fire from your shoulder.
“If something is found to be sacred, we will direct them to preserve it but no one will be allowed to stay there. Everyone will move out otherwise the whole forest is going to be disturbed,” the bench said.
As the lawyer said this structure came before the forest, the bench said, “But forest will be given priority.”
“We have seen how all this is done, there is a bigger game plan and all this is done with a slogan and to mislead the general public. This is done to create confusion and to create division in the society.
“The priority is the green lungs of Delhi. You don’t feel for Delhiites. Young children are not born with red lungs. Today when a surgeon opens the lungs of children or anybody else, they are not red and they are all black. Children are being born with defunct lungs, please feel for them,” the bench said.
It also asked the petitioner’s lawyer to make a request with folded hands to those staying inside forest or have premises inside the forest or even have shrines, temples or gurudwaras that they should vacate it.
“It is for the betterment of society at large. Health is at the highest pedestal. Look at the people who are suffering from lung diseases in Delhi, unbelievable. We are such an unhealthy population today. We have deformed lungs, it is terrible,” the bench said.
It said the petitioners have come to court in public interest and they should also canvass this public interest at ground level.
Go there and tell them that our green lungs are being restored and ask them to vacate the forest, it said.
The court disposed of the petition while taking note of the statement made by the counsel for DDA and other authorities that all the structures declared by any statutory authority as part of the national heritage will be preserved and shall not be destroyed or demolished.
It was further submitted that all encroachments are being removed and any demolition action will be taken only in accordance with law.