Projects to clean the Yamuna and flyover also pending
The Union Health Ministry’s plan to construct a 100-bed hospital in Najafgarh is in a limbo, as the permission for cutting trees for the project has been pending with the Delhi Environment Minister’s office for almost two years, according to documents accessed by The Hindu.
“The official concerned had recommended the cutting of trees and submitted the file to the Minister. But it has been pending at the Minister’s office since then. He has neither rejected nor approved it,” a Delhi government official said.
As per a status report of the Delhi government, the file was submitted to the Environment Minister on December 18, 2018. “Marked to Hon’ble Minister (E&F) on 28.02.2020. Submitted for the first time on 18.12.2018,” read the status of the file.
The lack of an equipped hospital was sorely felt at the peak of the pandemic. In November, up to 55% of hospital beds for COVID-19 were occupied in the city and more than 90% of ICU beds were full. There were several complaints of people finding it difficult to find beds, forcing governments to start temporary hospitals.
Alarmingly, it’s not the only project that’s pending. Permission to cut trees for several projects of the Central and State governments are pending with the Environment Minister for durations ranging from 60 days to almost two years. These include two waste water treatment plants (WWTP) to clean the Yamuna, flyover and railway overbridge by the Central government, besides work related to the Regional Rapid Transit System.
When contacted, a Delhi government spokesperson and the Minister’s office refused to comment on the issue. The files pending before the Minister are projects where the officials have recommended to grant permission to cut trees. Remarkably, files for rejection of the application do not go to the Minister unless asked specifically.
As per rules, an applicant can go ahead and cut the trees if the government does not reply within 60 days. But officials said that most government projects do not go ahead without a permission, so as to avoid problems in the future.
“The Tree Officer shall give his decision within sixty days from the date of receipt of the application. If the officer fails to communicate his permission on request within the period specified under sub-section (3), the permission referred to in section 8 shall be deemed to have been granted,” the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994, states about permission for cutting of trees.
Instead of a full-fledged hospital, a rural health training centre is functioning as a dispensary, an official said. “It attends to outpatients, but do not admit patients. The proposal is to construct a three-storey hospital with 100 beds,” a second official said.
The file, which is pending before the Minister, has raised questions and criticism from “different quarters”. Union Minister Harsh Vardhan has also written a letter on permission for cutting of trees for the hospital being delayed, as per officials.
Water treatment plant
The file for permitting the cutting trees for upgrading Rithala Phase II waste water treatment plant was sent to the Minister on September 23, as per the report. It has been pending since then. Similarly, permission for cutting trees for constructing a WWTP in Okhla has been pending with the Minister since September 29. Both projects are of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) under the State government.
Untreated waste water flowing into Yamuna is one of the major reasons for the pollution of the river and the DJB has been pulled up multiple times by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for missing deadlines of different project to clean the Yamuna.
Permission for a flyover at Narela by a Central government agency is pending with the Minister since July 8, 2019 as well. Also, permission for felling trees at a Central government FCI godown at Narela has been delayed since December 18, 2018.
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