Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 7
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has made it clear that there was no deterrence to illegal constructions in the Sukhna Lake’s catchment area. The State did not provide adequate police backup for carrying out drives to demolish illegal constructions. To make the matters worse, “State instrumentality” supplied power and water connection to persons raising unauthorised constructions. The judgment also underscores how a Single Bench went against the recognised norms to stay demolition.
Construction in the catchment continued unabated, even though the High Court in March 2011 ordered that no housing colonies or building activities of any kind would take place until further orders. The direction was reiterated in May 2012, when the Bench specifically directed the States of Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh to ensure that unauthorised construction activity was not carried out in the catchment area described in a map prepared by the Survey of India. Directions were also issued to demolish any construction raised in violation of the orders without issuing notice.
The order had the potential of making a difference. The proposed demolition at that stage also had the capacity of acting as a deterrent. In fact, notices were issued to the defaulters. But the State Administration failed to provide support to the law enforcing agencies through adequate police force. Also, the order passed by the Single Judge against the established norms in May 2017 changed the situation.
In its 148-page order on the issue, the Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Harinder Singh Sidhu asserted the law enforcement agencies issued notices to the defaulters, but the Single Judge stayed the demolition in three writ petitions filed in 2017. “Learned Single Bench could not pass orders contrary to the orders passed by the Division Bench,” Justice Sharma asserted on behalf of the Bench.
The satiation was remedied only in October 2018, after counsel for the petitioners submitted that Single Bench vide order dated May 30, 2017, had stayed the demolition. After hearing counsel for the parties and amicus curiae, the Bench then directed the State of Punjab to ensure strict compliance of order dated May 14, 2012. “In other words, no further construction shall be allowed to be raised in the catchment area”.
The fact that constructions continued becomes evident from observations by the Bench and Court Commissioner Vikas Suri’s report filed in sequel to HC orders of November 2018. In his 13-page report submitted in December 2018, Suri said he noticed that many houses and buildings under construction had metered electricity supply from the state electricity department; and its officials visited the installation site for fixing the electricity meters. The meter readers, too, were making periodic visits to jot down the energy consumption. “In a way, the State instrumentality was supporting such new construction in the area,” Suri submitted.
Taking a note of its contents, Justice Sharma observed: “It is evident that large-scale unauthorised construction activity was noticed by the Court Commissioner in village Kansal, Kaimbwala, Saketri (Haryana) as well as catchment area of UT Chandigarh. The Court Commissioner has noticed that the State instrumentality has supplied the electricity and water connection to the persons indulged in unauthorised construction activities”.
Available information suggests the total catchment area is 42 sq km, out of which 2.7 sq km falls in Haryana and 10.2 sq km in Punjab. The remaining area is in Chandigarh.
On complicity of State, Justice Sharma observed the Court had ordered demolition of the building without notice, but the State Administration did not render assistance to the law enforcing agencies by providing sufficient police force.
The States of Punjab, Haryana and UT Chandigarh kept on assuring this Court that no unauthorised construction would be undertaken, but it remained unabated leading to a grim situation.
“The State has connived with the defaulters by providing them with the electricity and water connections. It is expected from the functionaries discharging sovereign/regal functions to be on the right side of law. The States cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The weak administration had permitted mushrooming of unauthorised constructions in a very fragile eco-sensitive areas/catchment area causing irreparable damage to the ecology”.
State functionaries turned a blind eye
The Bench ruled the State functionaries could not be oblivious of large-scale construction activities going on in the catchment and its surrounding areas in negation of laws. Haryana’s act of preparing Master Plan 2021 called “Mansa Devi Complex” and extending it to areas covered by the 2004 map was against public interest. “How could the State of Punjab notify Naya Gaon Master Plan-2021 knowing fully well that the area covered in the Master Plan/zones impinged upon the catchment area of map prepared by the Survey of India, especially when its higher functionaries had attended the meetings at the time of map’s preparation and all their objections being considered in this regard?”
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