Thursday, March 29, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Anandgarh project notification quashed
Yoginder Gupta
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 28
In a major setback to the Badal government, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a landmark judgement today set aside the notifications acquiring over 10,500 acres in 29 villages to develop the new town of Anandgarh because the “site was not selected in accordance with law” and the impugned notifications “do not conform to the requirements of the statute”.

A Division Bench comprising Mr Justice Jawahar Lal Gupta and Mr Justice N.K. Sud, which quashed the notifications while disposing of a bunch of five writ petitions, observed that the state government had acquired land without obtaining permission from the competent authority under the provisions of the Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act, 1952, and the rules. “The government”, the judges observed, “has proceeded to acquire land without being entitled to raise any construction or even lay any roads. The entire proceedings can prove to be an exercise in futility.”

Speaking for the Bench, Mr Justice Gupta wrote in the 77-page judgement: “Nature is beautiful. But it demands obedience to its ordinances. When violated, the earth erupts and we have earthquakes. Man cannot continue to ‘pick nature’s pocket.’ He cannot raise multi-storeyed monsters of steel and cement at every place. All places cannot be suitable for a new city.”

Going into the objectives of the Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act (PRTPDA), 1995, the Bench said the legislature enacted the Act to regulate and plan the use of land; to ensure proper urbanisation; and to check haphazard growth. To achieve these objectives, the Act provided for the constitution of a State Regional and Town Planning and Development Board, which would be guiding and directing the planning and development process in the State.

Holding that the PRTPDA was applicable to the Anandgarh project, the court regretted that while embarking upon the project the state had not shown even “scant regard” for the salutary provisions of the statute and acted against the express letter and spirit of the Act. “The state has not allowed the Board to perform its functions. In particular, it has not let the Board select the site for the new city. It has acted in contravention of the statute.”

The court held that in the process the government had deprived the citizen of the opportunity to put forth the objections or suggestions and denied itself the benefit of good advice.

Dealing with the argument forwarded by the Advocate-General of Punjab, Mr H.S. Matewal, that the 1995 Act prescribed a highly time consuming procedure, Mr Justice Gupta said: “The mere fact that the government finds the procedure prescribed by the Act and the rules to be lengthy or cumbersome and such as can result in delay cannot be a ground to avoid obedience to the provisions of the law. The courts cannot allow ‘time’ taken in complying with the provisions to become the graveyard of good laws or people’s rights.”

The Bench said the argument based on pure expediency could not be sustained as it carried an inherent danger. “If accepted, it would provide the State with a standard alibi in every case where express provisions of law are ignored... Mere inconvenience to the executive shall become a valid excuse. No court can allow this to happen.”

Referring to a Tribune report, published on June 30, 1995, which quoted the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, as opposing to the idea of “New Chandigarh” propounded by the then Chief Minister, Mr Beant Singh, the Bench wondered why there was a change in the attitude of Mr Badal and “where the concern for the poor farmers or the employees, which was so vociferously expressed only a few years back, gone? Is not Anandgarh merely the ‘old wine in a new bottle’?”

The court also regretted that the state government had failed to consider the objections raised and the relevant suggestions made by the Union Ministries of Defence and Urban Development. “Its action is likely to finish the farms and farmers who live in the periphery of Chandigarh.”

On the allegation of mala fide intention behind the acquisition of land levelled by the petitioners, who contended that several influential persons had purchased land in the area, the Bench gave the benefit of doubt to the respondents. Mr Justice Gupta wrote: “There is a suspicion surrounding the action of the state government in acquiring the land. There is a smell. But not a stink. Suspicion is not enough to uphold the plea of mala fide intentions. Thus, the respondents are entitled to a benefit of doubt when the entire acquisition is challenged on the ground of extraneous considerations.”

Taking notice of the precarious financial position of the Punjab government, the Bench did not accept the plea of Mr Mattewal that the government would sell the plots and collect the funds. “This is a hope. It may even come true. However, the State cannot proceed to deprive people of their property without having the resources to pay for it. It cannot proceed on mere hope... The State cannot act on a mere dream. At the present moment the State is finding it difficult to keep its head up...However, its ability to gather the resources to pay for the land and to develop it, is extremely suspect and it’s wisdom doubtful.” Back

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