Delhi HC: Hauz Khas Deer Park to Remain Home for Now

The Delhi High Court has intervened in the ongoing controversy surrounding the fate of the spotted deer residing in the Deer Park, Hauz Khas, Delhi. On December 6, 2023, the court ordered the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to halt their planned relocation of the deer to the Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary, citing concerns about animal welfare and the need for further investigation. This landmark decision has been met with immense relief from animal welfare activists and has ignited hope for the future of these vulnerable animals.

Background:

The controversy arose when the DDA announced their intention to translocate approximately 600 spotted deer, including vulnerable fawns and pregnant does, from the Deer Park. The DDA cited concerns about the park’s carrying capacity and potential health risks as reasons for the proposed relocation. However, this plan was met with strong opposition from the New Delhi Nature Society (NDNS), who filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the DDA’s decision.

The NDNS argued that the proposed translocation was being carried out without proper compliance with crucial legal provisions and guidelines, including the Animal Welfare Board of India’s Guidelines for the Translocation of Wild Animals, 2011. These guidelines emphasize the importance of minimizing stress and harm to animals during relocation, outlining specific protocols for pre- and post-translocation care, appropriate transportation facilities, and ensuring suitable habitat conditions at the destination site. The NDNS contended that the DDA’s plan failed to adequately address these vital aspects, raising concerns about the potential negative impact on the well-being of the deer, particularly the vulnerable individuals.

The Delhi High Court, recognizing the potential risks associated with the translocation, issued a stay order on December 6th. The court strongly emphasized the need for strict adherence to established guidelines and drew upon relevant case law, specifically citing the Animal Welfare Board’s directives and referencing the landmark Supreme Court judgment in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja & Ors. (2014). This case established the fundamental principle that animals have inherent rights and deserve compassion and respect, setting a crucial precedent for animal welfare in India.

Decision:

Guided by these legal principles, the Delhi High Court held the DDA accountable for prioritizing the safety and well-being of the deer during any potential future relocation. This includes adhering to established protocols, providing adequate transportation facilities, and ensuring suitable habitat conditions at the destination site. Additionally, the court recognized the historical significance of the Deer Park and its role as a public recreational space. As such, the DDA was directed to maintain at least 50 deer in the park, acknowledging its dual purpose as an animal sanctuary and an integral part of Delhi’s urban landscape.

Relevant Laws Related to DDA(Delhi Development Aothority):

The Delhi Development Authority, tasked with planning and development initiatives in Delhi, operates under diverse legal frameworks. These laws guide the organization’s activities and ensure accountable decision-making. Here’s a breakdown of some key regulations:

1. The Delhi Development Act, 1957: This overarching legislation establishes the DDA, outlining its functions, powers, and procedures for planning and development within the city. Key sections include:

Section 3: Defines the DDA’s responsibilities, including land acquisition, development, planning, and land use regulation.

Section 12:Dictates the creation of development areas and Master Plans.

Section 15: Governs land acquisition and disposal.

Section 22: Outlines the DDA’s management of Nazul lands (land owned by the government).

Section 31: Empowers the DDA to halt development projects violating the Act or Master Plan.

Section 31A: Grants the DDA authority to seal unauthorized developments.


2. Delhi Land Laws: This umbrella term encompasses various regulations regarding land ownership, transfer, and development in Delhi. Some significant examples include:

Delhi Land (Restrictions on Transfer) Act, 1972: Limits land transfer within Delhi without prior approval.

Delhi Development Authority (Management and Disposal of Housing Land) Regulations, 1968: Establishes guidelines for the DDA’s allocation and disposal of land.

The Land Acquisition (Delhi) Act, 1960: Provides the framework for the Delhi Government and DDA to acquire land for public purposes.


3. Environmental Laws: Adherence to environmental laws is crucial for the DDA’s operations. Key environmental regulations include:

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986: Offers a comprehensive framework for environmental protection and pollution control.

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980: Restricts the conversion of forest land for non-forest purposes.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Safeguards wildlife and their habitats.

4. Other Relevant Laws:

The Right to Information Act, 2005: Enables citizens to access information held by public authorities, including the DDA.

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010: Establishes a specialized tribunal to handle environmental disputes involving the DDA and others.

This list is not exhaustive, as additional laws may apply depending on the specific project or activity undertaken by the DDA.

Conclusion:

The Delhi High Court’s order represents a significant victory for animal welfare advocates and sets a crucial precedent for future wildlife management decisions in India. It underscores the paramount importance of prioritizing animal welfare in all aspects of wildlife management, including relocation projects. This decision further highlights the pivotal role of the judiciary in upholding animal rights and ensuring that they receive the respect and dignity they deserve.

However, the battle for the Deer Park’s spotted deer is far from over. The DDA is required to file a detailed response to the NDNS’s concerns and present a comprehensive plan for the future of the deer, including addressing the issues raised regarding animal welfare. Additionally, the court has mandated the appointment of an independent expert committee to oversee the process and ensure compliance with legal requirements and ethical considerations.

The next hearing in this case is scheduled for January 15, 2024. Until then, the fate of the Deer Park’s spotted deer hangs in the balance. While the Delhi High Court’s intervention has ensured that their well-being remains a key factor in any future decisions, the fight for these vulnerable animals may just be the beginning of a larger movement towards a more humane and responsible approach to wildlife management in India. The outcome of this case will undoubtedly pave the way for future decisions regarding animal welfare and environmental protection in the country.

It is important to note that the DDA has not yet announced their revised plans for the Deer Park’s spotted deer. All stakeholders involved in this case are eagerly awaiting the next hearing, which will provide further clarity on the future of these animals. Regardless of the outcome, the Delhi High Court’s intervention has already sent a strong message that the well-being of animals is a major concern in India and that there is a growing movement towards a more compassionate and responsible approach to wildlife management.

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.


This article has been assisted by Sridhan Tiwari, a 3rd year law student pursuing B.A., LL.B. from Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida.