Land ‘crisis’ for compensatory afforestation may hit development projects: DDA

Urban body seeks permission for carrying out the exercise in neighbouring States, experts say not helpful for Capital

June 08, 2022 12:20 pm | Updated June 21, 2022 11:22 am IST - New Delhi 

The Delhi Development Authority is currently facing a shortage in land for compensatory afforestation. File photo for representation.

The Delhi Development Authority is currently facing a shortage in land for compensatory afforestation. File photo for representation. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is facing a shortage of land for carrying out compensatory afforestation (CA), has termed it a “crisis” that will adversely affect upcoming development projects in the Capital.

Compensatory afforestation, according to the Forest Conservation Act (1980), has to be carried out for any diversion of forest land, or deemed forest land, for non-forest purposes. Agencies carrying out development works are required to compensate for the loss of “land by land” and loss of “trees by trees”.

The DDA has raised the issue of land shortage twice since last year — in May 2021 and March this year — in letters sent to the Union Environment Ministry. In 2021, the DDA had provided 119.76 hectares of land to various service providing agencies for CA.

‘No acquisition since 1990’

A senior DDA official told The Hindu that the urban body has of late not been able to attend to the requests from service agencies, which are executing development projects, to provide land for CA due to the “land crisis”. “We have already conveyed to the agencies that there is no land for compensatory afforestation. The DDA has not acquired any land since 1990,” he said.

One of the projects that has been affected due to non-allotment of land is the Delhi-Saharanpur Highway being built by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

In the March 30 letter to the Ministry, DDA’s Vice-Chairman Manish Gupta had requested the Ministry to relax the guidelines issued under the Forest Conservation Act (1980) and to allow CA on degraded forest land in neighbouring States for projects implemented by the Centre and public sector undertakings (PSUs).

‘Exceptional case’

The DDA’s letter cited paragraph 2.3(v) of chapter 2 of the Handbook of Forest Conservation Act, which states: “In exceptional cases, where non-forest land for CA is not available in the same State/UT in which the diversion of forest land is proposed, land for CA can be identified in any other State/UTs, preferably in neighbouring State/UTs. The corresponding amount for carrying out CA shall be deposited in the CAMPA account of the State/UT in which CA is proposed.”

The senior DDA official stated that the ministry is yet to respond to the letter.

On the request made in May 2021, the officer said: “The response that we received from the Ministry back then was for us to conduct certain studies, but no solution was provided from their end.”

However, a senior official at the Ministry said the DDA can go ahead with CA in neighbouring States by coordinating with the respective governments and it does not require the Ministry's permission for the purpose.

“What they are seeking is an exclusive relaxation in terms of carrying out compensatory afforestation, which is not possible. If the [Central] government relaxes it, then it will be for everyone. I find it hard to believe that an agency which owns over 80% of the land in Delhi says that it has no land left for CA,” said the senior official at the Environment Ministry.

Relaxations sought

The DDA official said conditions attached to issuing of land for CA purposes make it even more difficult for the urban body to allot land to agencies. “The land for CA has to be free of encroachments and legal tussles. If we receive the relaxation, it will help us deal with the crisis to some extent. Delhi has over 20% green cover and the focus should also be on qualitatively improving the existing cover,” said the senior DDA official.

The urban body’s proposal to carry out CA in neighbouring States has not impressed environmental experts. Diwan Singh, an environmentalist, said the proposed move will not benefit the Capital.

“CA is done for damage control purposes, which is caused by cutting of trees for development projects. If we do it in a neighbouring State, then it will help the neighbouring State,” said Mr. Singh.

He added that the urban body running out of land for recreational purposes – including CA – is a clear sign that the Capital is running out of its planning capacity.

“Infrastructure projects may seem necessary but there has to be a proper assessment of their need and cost. It is more damaging to the city in the environmental aspect if they [DDA] don’t have land for CA. Projects should be stopped till the pending CA is completed,” said Mr. Singh.

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