Supreme Court stays demolition of Forest Hill
New Delhi, December 6
A Bench, comprising Mr Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Mr Justice P.P. Naolekar, also directed the club’s owner, Mr B.S. Sandhu, to maintain trees and plantations on the 378 acre of club land, which includes a golf club, till further order.
The stay was granted by the apex court on an appeal by Mr Sandhu, challenging the October 12 judgement of the high court directing the club’s owners to demolish all constructions there as well as the golf club within it.
“We direct the stay of the demolition and status quo subject to the condition that neither any commercial activity on the resort nor the golf club by the owner would be allowed.
The owner would not be allowed to use them,” the Bench said, issuing notices to the Union and Punjab Governments on Mr Sandhu’s special leave petition (SLP) against the high court order.
The Centre and the Punjab Government were directed to file their replies within four weeks.
Mr Sandhu challenged the high court order on the ground that the land which was in the possession of club, did not fall within the definition of the forest land, which was the main reason for the high court ordering the demolition.
Mr Sandhu’s counsel questioned a notification by the Punjab Government under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, for bringing about 3,700 acres of land under forest cover from 1914 onward.
He said now a large number of people had built houses on the land over the years, but this was contested by Union Government counsel A.D.N. Rao, who claimed that “the area is a forest land”.
On a specific question about the maintenance of plants and trees on the club land, Punjab’s Advocate-General Harbhagwan Singh told the court that the responsibility for it should be fixed on the club’s owners during the pendency of their SLP.
The court also clarified that the demolition order would not affect the dwelling units of the villagers who though were not party to the case before the high court, had moved a petition in the apex court fearing that their interests would also be affected by the demolition order.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the villagers, said they had been living in the area for over 100 years and after the high court order officials of the Punjab Forest Department had “started threatening” them with eviction.
The apex court said the main question for examination before it was whether the Punjab Government notification under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act to bring the land under forest cover was sustainable or not, the effect of the notification on the nature of the land and if it is a forest what would be the consequences on the land use.
Union Government counsel said: “There is a sufficient supporting material to show that it is a forest land as 75 per cent of the total area still continues to be as forest land and only 25 per cent has been in the possession of villagers.”