“Forest Delhi’s Green Lungs”: High Court Expresses Concerns over Uncheck Encroachments in guise of ‘religious structures’

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The court made the observations while hearing a public interest litigation seeking that ancient monuments, particularly Ashiq Allah Dargah in Mehrauli, be protected from demolition

The Delhi High Court emphasized the critical importance of preserving forests as "Delhi's green lungs" to combat pollution and safeguard public health, expressing deep concern over unchecked encroachments and unauthorised constructions, including those under the guise of religious structures.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora highlighted the urgent need to restore and protect forests in the city, emphasizing their vital role in mitigating pollution and ensuring the well-being of Delhi's residents.

"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," the bench remarked.

The court's remarks came during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking protection for ancient monuments, including the Ashiq Allah Dargah in Mehrauli.

The petitioners argued for the preservation of historical sites amidst increasing encroachments and unauthorised developments.

The bench underscored the detrimental impact of pollution on public health, particularly on children, noting the alarming rise in respiratory ailments and lung diseases in Delhi. It emphasized the need to harmonize the rights to health, cultural heritage, and environmental protection.

Observing the encroachment of forest areas marked in the Master Plan, the court emphasized that green spaces serve as the lungs of the city and must be safeguarded from illegal constructions and encroachments.

"This court is of the view that green areas are the lungs of the city, and efforts have to be made by all statutory authorities to ensure that no illegal and unauthorised construction is carried out on this public land dedicated for public purposes," it said.

While examining photographs depicting unauthorised constructions, the bench rejected claims of historical significance and emphasized the need to prioritize forest preservation over unauthorised developments.

"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; they are all black. Children are being born with defunct lungs; please feel for them.......It is for the betterment of society at large. Health is on the highest pedestal. Look at the people who are suffering from lung diseases in Delhi. It is unbelievable. We are such an unhealthy population today. We have deformed lungs; it is terrible," the court said.

The court directed authorities to ensure the preservation of structures declared as part of the national heritage and to take necessary measures to remove encroachments in accordance with the law.

Conclusively, the bench reiterated the imperative of prioritizing public health and environmental conservation, emphasizing the collective responsibility to protect Delhi's green spaces for the well-being of present and future generations.

Case Title: Himanshu Damle & Anr. v. Delhi Development Authority & Ors.