The School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) is grappling with persistent infrastructure challenges due to a setback in its plan to establish a new campus, caused by the rejection of forest clearance.
Back in June, the Environment Ministry declined SPA’s request to use 7.5 hectares of deemed forest land located within the morphological ridge for the proposed campus. The ministry’s rationale for the rejection was the lack of specificity in the proposal.
An unidentified senior SPA official revealed that they have drafted a letter to the Delhi Forest Department, urging them to reconsider the decision.
Initially intended for construction in Vasant Kunj, the campus was designed to accommodate academic and administrative blocks, an auditorium, two hostel blocks, a mess, staff residences, and communal spaces for students.
The initial plan covered 8 hectares of land, with recommendations from the Ridge Management Board (RMB) and the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court leading to the exclusion of 0.46 hectares of notified forest land. The RMB and CEC approved the proposal contingent upon securing forest clearance. Among the 2,495 trees on the site, 1,091 were earmarked for removal, while 1,404 were to be preserved.
The SPA official highlighted their aspiration to expand offerings, including more courses and a stronger research component, given the current enrollment of 1,320 students. They anticipate a significant increase in enrollment, potentially reaching two to two-and-a-half times the existing figures if adequate space is available.
The official emphasized the strain on existing facilities at the ITO campus, originally designed for 150 undergraduates and 50-60 postgraduates.
Student housing presents another hurdle, as the college currently houses twice the number of students that its hostels were designed for. While institutions of similar caliber ideally provide on-campus accommodation, SPA’s scattered campuses prevent this. Presently, around 600 students are housed on campus, while the planned capacity for the two hostels was around 360-370 students.
A recent postgraduate student and former undergraduate at SPA pointed out that while student intake has increased, facilities have remained unchanged. The student stressed the significance of spacious common areas for projects and courses, highlighting limited space and shared rooms intended for one person accommodating two or three students.
In its assessment of the proposal in 2021, the CEC recognized SPA’s status as an ‘Institute of National Importance’ and deemed the project beneficial for the public. Despite the proposal’s lack of site-specific details, the CEC noted that the land allotted to SPA by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1983 has been in the institute’s possession since 1987. The CEC recommended that the Supreme Court grant permission for the diversion of ‘deemed forest’ land, a recommendation that was accepted.
SPA justified the selection of forest land for the project by tracing its origins back to 1942 when it commenced with one department and subsequently grew to twelve. The institution stressed that the land was allocated by the DDA in 1983 and subsequently acquired by SPA in 1987. The proposal underscored the allocation of substantial funds and approvals for the project, making a change of possession unfeasible.
Regarding the possibility of seeking alternative land following the clearance setback, the SPA official stated that it would hinge on whether the existing proposal is reconsidered.