NEW DELHI: Taking cognizance of reports that the forest department is severely short of staff and that it does not have a single night guard, National Green Tribunal has asked the forest department for a status report on its staff strength. Hearing a case on three illegal roads built in Rajokri forest, the five-member bench, headed by chairperson Swatanter Kumar, on Friday also ordered Delhi Development Authority to remove all encroachments from reserved forest areas and said it should be given police help as and when needed.

The court has also asked the additional district magistrates of headquarters, south and southwest districts to submit a status report on settlement of forest rights in the notified areas of the Ridge by July 17. The ADMs were appointed forest settlement officers on May 10, 2006, and were asked to complete all settlement rights for the notified forest areas by 2007. In the last hearing held on May 15, the court had told ADMs to determine and settle rights in relation to the notified area within a period of six months.

“DDA has so far not even submitted a comprehensive list of encroachments in the Ridge and have been asked to do so now. The DDA council told the tribunal that they are unable to remove encroachments due to law and order problems and request for police assistance. The tribunal acceded to this request and asked for police aid for DDA as and when they ask for it,” said a source.

The matter of illegal construction of roads in the Rajokri forest was highlight by TOI in a report on March 27, 2013 and brought to the court’s notice by amicus curiae Raj Panjwani. Residents of the nearby Rajokri Village have contested this allegation, saying that they have right of way since a path always existed there. The forest department, which initiated action against unknown persons for dumping rubble on these paths and constructing a motorable road over it, says that dumping of rubble and carrying out any form of construction activity in the notified forest is illegal.