The Delhi high court has asked the state government to file a fresh affidavit on the progress of formulating a standard operating procedures (SOP) to decide cases of offences against trees in accordance with the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act (DPTA), 1994.
On February 20, the state government’s principal chief forest conservator told justice Najmi Waziri that the department is formulating a three-phase SOP to effectively adjudicate cases of offences against trees, adding that plan would be ready within a month after the approval of the Delhi government.
In an affidavit dated February 20, the forest department said that the SOP shall include a “cognizance phase” to elucidate the manner in which offences should be received for effective adjudication of complaints, a “trial phase” for conducting examination/cross-examination of evidence, reports and submissions of the parties, and a “judgment phase” for the pronouncement of orders and appeals under DPTA, 1994.
The document was filed while the court was hearing a plea by Rajiv Dutta, a resident of South Extension, on March 23,seeking directions for an SOP /guidelines/directions etc. regarding the procedure for conducting hearings/proceedings/investigation by officers concerned for the offences/violations under DPTA, 1994.
The petition also sought the initiation of a training mechanism on the provisions of the Act and the basic principles of administrative law for all tree officers and their subordinates.
Justice Waziri noted that apart from a policy issued under Section 33 of DPTA with respect to the transplantation of the trees, there are no directions or guidelines regarding how a tree officer would deal with the complaints and hearings related to the damage of trees or violation of any other provisions of the Act.
Noting that a month has already passed since the Delhi government filed the affidavit, the judge said, “The one month period is over. Let an affidavit be filed apropos the progress having been made in this regard before the next date of hearing– April 11.”
During the hearing, the court was also informed by the counsel for the petitioner that a fully grown tree was fatally damaged and felled by a Tata 407 vehicle in South Extension last year.
Advocate Aditya N Prasad, for the petitioner, told the court that there is nothing on record to show that the offender was ever put to notice or that he made any application for compounding of the offence under DPTA.
Contending that there is no record to show that the penalty amount of ₹60,000 has been deposited, the counsel contended that this is a serious dereliction of duty by the tree officer concerned.
Appearing for the department, advocate Avishkar Singhvi told the court that an affidavit in this regard will be filed within two weeks and remedial measures shall be taken in consultation with the land owning agency, Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
While noting that it was a solitary tree on a stretch of the residential colony road, the court suggested remedial measures to bring back some tree-life to the street.
“…it is suggested by the learned counsel for the parties that an Amaltas tree of at least 15 ft. in height and having a nursery age of 4 years, may be planted at the site so that when it blooms, the tree would lend some cheer to the residents of the neighbourhood. Assistance of the director (horticulture) MCD be taken in this regard,” the court said.
The matter will next be heard on April 11.