“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.” – Constitution of India. The Constituent Assembly said it, and the Indian judiciary has planted the seeds for it.
A 2018 study has shown that excessive air pollution in the capital city of India, New Delhi, is responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 deaths in the city a year. On average, that computes to approximately 80 deaths a day.
One of the major problem areas tackled by the government of Delhi is the lack of green cover in the capital. On 8 September 2018, the government planted a whopping 5,000 saplings in the capital in their endeavour to reforest the capital.
One such endeavour that is sought to be undertaken by the government of Delhi, through the Delhi Master Plan 2021, is the afforestation of 823 hectares of barren land in Delhi that comes under the boundaries of the Central Ridge. While the government has been making consistent efforts to revive this area, the judiciary of our country has recently come to its aid.
The High Court of Delhi has in a novel and progressive endeavour undertaken the reforestation of the Delhi Central Ridge through the contempt jurisdiction. In various cases, Justice Nazmi Waziri, keeping in mind the economic capacity of the party, directed Contemnors to pay damages for their contemptuous actions by way of planting saplings in the Central Delhi Ridge.
The most remarkable of these cases is the contempt petition filed by the pharmaceutical company, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp, along with its Indian licensee, Sun Pharmaceuticals, against the entity that was formerly known as Nutra Specialities Private.
The contempt emanates from a patent infringement lawsuit filed in March, 2016 against Nutra Specialities to seek restraint orders for violation of the suit patent covering Sitagliptin. The suit was disposed of in May 2016. The above-mentioned contempt petition was filed by Merck in November 2018, on learning that Nutra Specialities was in violation of the final orders of the court dated 5 May 2016.
Upon receiving an apology from the contemnors for their continuing infringing actions, the court directed the contemnors to pay damages to the tune of ₹80,000 (US$1,160) by planting 140,000 trees in the Central Ridge.
The contemnors, now known as Venkatnarayana Active Ingredients Private, were directed to plant trees towards “the creation of a large green area in and around the city” of Delhi and “to take care of the plants at least till the end of the rainy season”.
The court not only put obligations on the contemnors to plant and care for trees in the region, and in a manner that would contribute to the Delhi Master Plan 2021, but also meticulously answered questions that would emanate from an order such
as this one.
The court paid special attention to the kind of trees that are planted in the Central Ridge to ensure that plantation not only contributes to the green cover of the city but also disseminates considerable amount of oxygen into the air, while reducing the carbon dioxide and pollutants from the environment.
What is particularly remarkable is the dedication of the judiciary to ensure that these orders prove to be more than just directions on a piece of paper. The court has routinely listed these matters before an already burdened roster in their attempt to remove any roadblocks that these entities may come across during this undertaking.
The court was of the opinion that the mere plantation of trees was not enough. The saplings planted need to be indigenous so that, in addition to increasing the green cover, the trees also provide nutritional value to the soil, hold enough water to increase the ground water level, prevent soil erosion and decrease the pollutants in the air. Therefore, while providing 22 categories of deciduous indigenous categories of trees that maybe planted in these regions, the court has also assisted the Forest Department in constructing a sustainable network of water distribution.
As of today, 11,600 trees have already been planted in the case of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp alone. By the end of July 2019, this number was expected to reach 18,000 trees.
Pravin Anand is managing partner at Anand and Anand. Tusha Malhotra is a partner in the litigation department of the firm. Pankhuri Malik, an associate in the litigation department, also assisted with the article.