Traverse Vasant Vihar on wheelchair to ascertain useability: Delhi HC

Freedom of movement is a constitutional guarantee and it should not be hemmed in by the lack of civic amenities, the Delhi high court has said.

The court, while hearing a plea on the concreting of hundreds of trees in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, also ordered an official of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation to traverse the length of the colony’s footpaths on a wheelchair, without any help from anyone, to ascertain the useability of pavements.

The court was hearing a plea by a resident who alleged inaction on the part of the authorities to preserve trees. The plea also cited non-compliance of earlier orders passed by the high court as well as the National Green Tribunal.

“Citizens need to be empowered and facilitated in the enjoyment of their constitutional rights, for which provision of basic civic amenities is essential, like a safe and secure neighbourhood, and tree-lined avenues and footpaths, where an endeavour of a leisurely stroll is actually a pleasurable exercise and not an obstacle dodging, harrowing experience,” justice Najmi Waziri said in an order of November 15.

The court said such a harrowing experience would discourage people from walking to neighbourhood shops, taking part in community bonding, holding cultural events, and spending their leisure time in parks.

“Instead, people would use motor vehicles, adding to the city’s ever-burgeoning traffic congestion and unmitigated air pollution. So, it all starts with taking care of the neighbourhood trees and greenery and ensuring that the footpaths winding through the tree-shaded avenues are obstacle free,” the court further said.

HT, on December 11, last year, reported how 80% of the trees in Vasant Vihar have been concretised. The story was based on a citizens-led tree census, which showed that of a total 4,993 trees on its streets, 3,859 were heavily concretised. The census also showed that over 450 trees had nails, tree guards, barbed wires etc. in or around them, 764 trees were lopped off, and at least 793 trees were infested with termites.

To ensure the useability of footpaths, the judge directed the executive engineer/ assistant engineer/ junior engineer of the SDMC, to traverse the length of the colony’s footpaths on a wheelchair without any aid or assistance from anyone.

“This will test the efficacy of the SDMC’s efforts to make streets and footpaths user friendly,” the court said.

During the earlier hearing on November 9, the court had sought the response of the SDMC and the Delhi Police on the concreting of hundreds of trees in Vasant Vihar.

In response, the civic body submitted numerous photographs to the court and informed the court that it had removed the concrete from around several trees.

The court noted that efforts have been made by the municipal corporation since the last date to rectify the lack of care for trees, while also recording the civic body’s assurance that the work will continue in earnest.

Additional standing counsel for Delhi Police submitted that all assistance will be given to the SDMC for carrying out the court’s directions and for removal of encroachments and/ or obstructions on footpaths and other public spaces.

The judge then directed that remedial measures be initiated in earnest and all concreting, beyond the road and the walking paths, be removed, no matter how deep the concreting was.

The matter will be next heard on November 26.

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