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The Curse of NGT Judgment – Undoing of Urban Planning

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Impact of NGT Orders on Shimla City's Development

Shimla– An old ‘common law’ proverb from the British era says “A man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge]”. This principle, which needs to be strengthened in a free country, is sadly in shambles and perhaps held more truth in the colonial times than it holds now. The level of insecurity a man has with respect to the ownership or for making improvements in his living space/house or building is increasing day by day because of unreasoned judgments of Courts or illogical executive dictates.

In these series of articles (1,2 & 3), the impact of various laws and judgments which have essentially worked for depriving the common citizens in State of H.P, of their ‘Right to Property” will be critically examined.

This article is aimed at academically discussing and pointing out the perversitie and manifest errors in the ‘NGT Judgement’ which was passed on November 16, 2017. The judgment banned all construction activities in the green and core areas and also within 3 meters from national highways. It also restricted the number of stories to two-and-a-half in other areas where construction was permitted to up to 4 to 5 stories.

THE UNHEARD VICTIMS

The Order adversely affects many different categories of people. For instance, a person who has a sanctioned plan in accordance with TCP Law/By-Laws/Rules, who had saved his ‘life savings’ for the construction of his house, is now stuck in limbo, having done nothing wrong. If a man had the approval and sanctioned plan of  ‘four and a half story’ building, which was permitted under TCP law, he is now told that he cannot construct the house in accordance with that initial sanction.

Another man who has his sole plot/property in the core area is prevented from doing anything with it, though he may have buildings on either side of his plot. The significance of the initial sanction and the mandate of the Town and Country Planning Act is bypassed by the Hon’ble Tribunal which is not even competent to decide the matter under such Laws (TCP Act/ MC Act). To add insult to injury, such persons are not even heard or paid compensation before they are so monumentally impacted by the decision.

The Constitution makers bestowed right on every citizen of the country to acquire, hold and dispose of property and  also provided ample safeguards against deprivation of the property by confining such deprivation only on payment of compensation to the expropriated owner. As such, the judgment is against the spirit of Article 300-A of the Indian Constitution.

IMPACTING DEVELOPMENT BY ABSURD AND BLANKET DIRECTION

1. Around 52 ‘Shimla Smart City Projects’, which aim at improving the infrastructural base of the city, are directly impacted by this judgment and are stalled. Such a wide impact of this blanket direction neither can be conceived nor can be expected to be implemented if the city has to grow. Further, such powers were never envisaged under the NGT Act which creates the Hon’ble Tribunal.

2. Another blanket and absurd direction is where the judgment prohibits new construction of any kind, i.e. residential, institutional and commercial in any part of the core area as defined under the various notifications issued under the Interim Development Plan as well by the State Government.

According to the standing laws of the State, the reconstruction in the green areas is permissible on old lines and construction in the core area with the permission of the State Government is also permissible, as per the existing laws (Notification/Statutes). If someone’s house is falling or has become structurally unsafe he should obviously be allowed to reconstruct on old lines, but this is also prevented as a consequence of these directions.    The tribunal has not quashed the relevant notifications which deal with this issue and has said something completely contrary to the existing laws. Now the situation is that we have two sets of laws, which are completely opposite to each other. The Tribunal doesn’t have the power to quash these laws nor interpret them.

3. The most Absurd direction is where the judgment says that beyond core, green and the areas falling within the authorities of the Shimla Planning Area, the constructions may be permitted strictly but not beyond two stories plus attic floor.

According to the law of the land, the construction in the core areas is being regulated by the provisions of the Interim Development Plan for Shimla as amended vide notification dated  28th June’ 2016, which clearly provides that the construction in the core area of Shimla is not story-based but is based upon the  maximum floor area ratio and maximum height of the building which is 1.50 to 1.75 & 21 meters respectively. Similarly, in the non-core areas of Shimla, the maximum floor area ratio is 1.75 & the maximum height of the building is 21 meters. Since the provisions of the Interim Development Plan for Shimla are still in operation, the same are now in conflict with the directions imparted by the Hon’ble Tribunal.

Traumatizing & Patent Illegality of the Judgement

There are numerous errors in the said judgment of the Hon’ble Tribunal, some are legal errors and others are factual errors. The judgment not only enters into a field which is outside its purview, but it also gives a shortsighted vision of its own in the matters of planning and development without comprehending the complexity of the factual problems which exists on the ground.

Though there are many flaws in the judgment, in this first article of the series, some of them have been enumerated as follows:

Firstly, the judgment dated 16.11.2017 has been passed in violation of the principles of natural justice and without giving an opportunity of being heard to those persons who stand adversely affected. The principles of natural justice concern procedural fairness and ensure a fair decision is reached by an objective decision-maker. Maintaining procedural fairness protects the rights of individuals and enhances public confidence in the process. Right of being heard is a right given to those parties who will be adversely affected by the decision. This right is a backbone for a ‘Fair Trial’. Such an important aspect of the judicial proceeding is missing in this case. Numerous persons whose property rights have been taken away have not been heard until now. The judgment should fall on this ground alone.

Secondly, the Tribunal is not even competent, or in other words, has the necessary jurisdiction to hear or decide matters relating to TCP Act or Municipal Corporation Act. The Tribunal is specifically established for matters which relate to ‘Environment’ and laws/Acts which deal with the protection of the same for e.g Environment Protection Act, Water Act, Air Act, etc. The tribunal certainly cannot br expected to interpret TCP Act and MC Act or bypass the mandate of Article 300 A and deprive persons of their houses or stop future government projects which are necessary for effectively implementing State policies.

Thirdly A peculiar problem which has arisen right now is that ‘Town and Country Planning Act’ provisions are not struck down and NGT judgment, which is saying something completely opposite, also stands. It is a rule of thumb that when the Courts have to disagree with a statuary provision for being unconstitutional etc., they will either quash it or read it down. NGT has done none of it, nor it could have done anything in this respect since these two acts are outside its jurisdiction. These acts fall within the jurisdiction of the Hon’ble High Court or the Hon’ble Apex Court.

When the law of the land has not been quashed or struck down, it obviously means that it is still the law of the land and has to be implemented. The judgment seems to be more on the lines of guidelines rather being a dictate or laying down an authoritative pronouncement.

Another fundamental flaw in the judgment is that the Tribunal has traveled way beyond the petition/application and what was prayed by the Applicant who approached it. The Courts, as a rule of practice, are limited to the pleadings which are filed before it, in this case, the Hon’ble Tribunal has gone far beyond the petition which it was deciding. The phrase ‘knight roaming in a shining armor’ is apt for this judgment. Here, the Court has set out to make right all the problems and evils of the State and has done future planning both for urban and rural areas and for the lakhs of inhabitants of such areas.

An important principle which has been forgotten in these blanket directions is ‘Actus curiae neminem gravabit’. The act of the Court shall prejudice no man. (Cumber v. Wane, i Sm. L. C. i ith ed. p. 338.)’.  The number of people who have been condemned unheard is astoundingly large. The livelihood of thousands is at stake, the development of the urban and rural areas of the State is at stake. These people are not criminals, these development plans are not out of the ordinary rather are a necessity for a growing city. The development plans have rightly been drawn by the competent authority under a well-established law. If the law is ‘common sense’ then this sense demands that these directions need a relook. If a law makes lakhs of people in the State as law breakers than there is something wrong with the law itself.

Right to Shelter, Challenges of Providing Housing to the Growing Population

It must be remembered that if everyone is compelled to make two and a half stories or not construct on vacant plots, it would lead to scarcity of housing or it would lead to cutting down of more trees as more land/surface area would be required to construct such houses. To sustain the growing population 4 to 5 storied buildings which if found structurally safe and not impacting the environment were perfectly reasonable and rightly allowed by the TCP/MC laws.

Right to shelter is a fundamental right and right of people to move from rural to urban areas is also a basic right. Both these rights stand defeated if these directions are not quashed. Housing will just become more and more expensive and out of the reach of poor and middle-class families. Old structures won’t be reconstructed, no new constructions will be raised, and no new Government projects can come up. The view of main Shimla town apart from Mall Road, which looks like a ghetto, will always remain like a ghetto.

In case of an earthquake, the chances of survival of the ‘High Court building’ (7 stories) and the ‘Cecil Hotel’ building (9 stories) are way more than the two-storied buildings of  Shimla’s lower bazaar /middle bazaar.  The point is that Morden technology and latest techniques of construction allow us to provide structurally safer buildings than what we had in the past. Further, they can also sustain more population in less surface area of land and fulfill a huge public purpose by doing so. The height of buildings as provided in municipal and TCP laws in accordance with floor to height ratio were reasonably arrived at by the competent authority. The Courts certainly are not equipped nor are expected to venture into this area which is outside their powers and tell us ‘how many stories can be built’, it is certainly the domain of the executive as they have experts with them and also have a better grasp of the ground reality (At least in theory).

The cost of such broad-ranging directions and ideas is very high – particularly on Shimla Town and its housing, making the cost of living and doing business costly and hurting the local enterprises, and thereby, shifting the planned outcomes into a different direction with respect to economic opportunities. The focus of the planning approach has to shift from ‘development restricting’ approach toward ‘development enabling’ approach and it requires finalization of the Developmental plan for the city. It is extremely surprising that Shimla City does not have a final development plan in place to date (this will be discussed elaborately in future articles).

There are numerous other directions and issues relating to the final development plan and some arbitrary TCP Rules such an “non inhabitable attics, no single window clearances and the power of the babus to extort money in passing of plans etc  which will be critically examined in the next article.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher.

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer, practicing at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School. For any queries related to the articles, he can be contacted at 7018469792 or at [email protected] The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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Video: Three Shimla MC Workers Caught Dumping Garbage in Forest, Suspended After Video Shared on Twitter

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Shimla MC Workers Dumping garbage into forest

Shimla- Three sanitation workers of Shimla Municipal Corporation were suspended after a video was posted on social media showing them disposing of a large amount of garbage in a forest area. The incident became an embarrassment for SMC as the video went viral on Twitter and reached Central officials and green activists.

As per the local who recorded the video, on November 22 at about 1:30 PM; he saw garbage being dumped in the forest near SMC parking on the cart-road.

A green activist of Healing Himalaya organization picked the video on Twitter and brought it to the attention of the officials of the Centre government. The organization tagged BK Agarwal, Secretary Lokpal, Govt. of India and IFS officer Parveen Kaswan.

Sanjeev Gupta, Secretary, ISCS, Home Ministry, also responded on the video and Tweeted,

“An absolute shocker. Stern action should be taken against these reckless murderers of the environment (most likely working for Shimla MC). Will take it up with the State Govt & Shimla MC.”

It’s pertinent to mention that Healing Himalayas had undertaken a cleaning campaign in the said area a few months back. The organization in its Tweet said,

“It is so disheartening to see our work being undone near lift Shimla.”

The SMC was directed to take action. It was found that the sanitation workers of the SEHB society were dumping about two tons of garbage collected from the lift area during one of its cleanliness campaigns.

However, instead of carrying it up to the road for transportation, they dumped it into the forest.  The workers were identified from the video and suspended.

According to the Commissioner, SMC, Pankaj Rai, the Area Supervisor and Sanitary Inspector have been served show-cause notices.

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Baddi Dumping Yard Case: Blow to Solan Admin as HC Directs Relocation of Family, Construction of House, Cow-Shelter

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Baddi Dumping Yard Case 2

Solan-As a blow to the trickery of District Administration, Solan, and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), the Himachal Pradesh High Court on November 21, 2019, gave a big relief to the families forced to live in inhuman conditions in Baddi’s Kenduwal. These two authorities had been reluctant to relocate or compensate victim families. They went to the extent of not following the orders of the court. In fact, this case has highlighted the hypocrisy of the government over its own Swachh Bharat campaign. 

However, hearing the petition, a bench of Chief Justice L.Narayana Swamy and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua on november 21, 2019, passed orders directing the Deputy Commissioner, Solan, to identify a piece of land to relocate the family, provide them with a house, electricity and water connection, and consider construction of cow-shelters for their cattle to the satisfaction of the families.  The court also appointed Rajnish Maniktala, a senior advocate as Amicus Curiae to assist the court in this petition. Further, the implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules in the entire state has come under the ambit of this petition, which was filed by Shimla-based Advocate, Deven Khanna. 

The BBNDA and Baddi Municipal Council had turned the site at Kenduwal into an illegal dumping yard. The Authority was supposed to construct a Solid Waste Treatment Plant years ago, however, instead, it simply created a dumping yard and violated several environmental laws and guidelines. As per the petition, none of the 36 Conditions mentioned in the Environment Clearance letter are fulfilled by BBNDA. Such grieve environmental violation under the patronage of the state government is a matter of huge concern for the state. 

The houses of about 32 members of four families belonging to Gujjar families were located at this site. These families had been living here for over three decades. Creating dumping yard around their habitat had made their lives unbearable as well as unsafe due to unhygienic conditions arising due to this illegal dumping yard.

 

These families had been running from pillar to post seeking relief. However, none of the state government bodies, district administration, police, or the BBNDA authority listened to their grievance. Eventually, Suleman, on behalf of these families, approaches the court to file a PIL.

About six months ago, the court had eventually asked the Authorities to relocate the family to a piece of land that is located at a considerable distance from the dumping yard.

However, BBNDA defied the orders of the court and, in a bid to allegedly threaten the families, it demolished their cow-sheds last month. Over 80 cattle, including about 40 cows and newborns, were left shelter-less to face winters under the open sky.  The families had alleged that officials trespassed and demolished their cow-sheds without showing any orders from any authority. Instead, the officials used police force, including armed jawans, to scare them. Himachal Watcher had published a story regarding the same along with a video of the said demolition being carried out.

Surprisingly, none of the other media (dailies and regional news portals) covered this news. In fact, media hardly showed any interest in this petition ever. It appears, belonging to minority community, the suffering of these Gujjar families did not appeal to anyone except the State High Court. 

Through their advocate, Khanna, the families have also filed a contempt petition in the court, which is pending.

Meanwhile, hearing the main petition, the said orders were passed by the court.

“In the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, we permit the petitioner to approach the Deputy Commissioner Concerned by filing a separate application with a prayer for relocation of his house to the extent of land, which is in his occupation, to any other suitable area to the satisfaction of the petitioner,”

the bench said in its order.

“If such approached by way of application is made to the DC concerned, the said Authority shall consider his request and pass appropriate order at the earlier,”

the bench said.

“It is stated by the learned counsel for the petitioner that the cow-shed, having cattle, was demolished. For this purpose, DC concerned to also look into the matter while considering the application of the petitioner for relocation/construction of house/ow-shed as well as providing electricity and water connection for the decent living of the petitioner,”

the bench directed the DC referring to the act of demolishing petitioner’s cow-shelter.

It’s pertinent to mention that when previously contacted by HW, the DC, Solan, had termed this as a case of encroachment, and had said that these families are not eligible for relocation as they are not covered by any such policy.  Considering the indifference of the district administration, the current order has come as a blow to it.

The next hearing has been scheduled for December 16, 2019. 

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CBI Probe in Kotkhai Gudia Case Under Scanner, Forensic Report Suggests Involvement of More Than One Person

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Kotkhai Gudia case forensic experts report

Shimla-Gudia Nyay Manch has demanded fresh probe into the ill-fated 2017 Kotkhai Gudia rape and murder case after new revelations were made in the recent hearing in the case.   

The case was closed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team after booking and arresting a woodcutter for the said crime with a conclusion that it was not a gangrape and only one person was involved. The turn of events left the family of the 16-year-old victim and the people of the state stumped and unsatisfied. Media reports had also challenged the probe

While CBI claimed to have solved the case after eleven months of investigation, hardly anyone was convinced that a woodcutter could have possibly committed this crime and managed to fool CBI and bribe nine police personals including IG, SP, and DSP to frame wrong people.

The accused police officials, who were booked for the custodial killing of Suraj – one of the six suspects allegedly framed by them, were defending someone, the public suspected. There were many other questions which remained unanswered thus the CBI’s claim failed to convince anyone that justice was done to Gudia.

After a silence of about one year, the inquiry conducted by the CBI is in the public court. During the hearing of the case of custodial death at Chandigarh-based CBI court, forensic experts claimed that there is a possibility that more than one persons were involved in the rape and murder of Gudia.

These forensic experts – HV Acharya, Assistant Director, Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar, and Hemangi Shah Assistant Director, Forensic Psychological Division, Directorate of Forensic Science, Gandhinagar- had conducted polygraph and Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature Profiling (BEO) tests on the five accused – Rajinder Singh, Lokjan, Deepak, Ashish Chauhan, and Subhash Singh.

During this hearing, they were cross-questioned by the defense counsel, Atvinder Singh.

Singh asked Dr Acharya if he still stands by his observation that the crime in Gudia was conducted by more than one person, Acharya said “Yes” as an affirmative response. Dr Shan also supported Acharya.

A joint observation report was compiled by the two experts and submitted to the CBI.

While their report clearly said that no role of these five accused was observed in Gudia case. Their report had also said that no role of Rajinder was observed in killing of Suraj.

Moreover, the report of these experts has also observed that there was “definite police effort to defend someone”.

The experts stood by their observation that these six accused were arrested and tortured without any direct evidence.

The Gudia Nyay Manch is up in arms again against CBI for an allegedly botched up investigation in the case. The Manch said it would be staging fresh protest against CBI soon.

What is Kotkhai Gudia Case

On July 4, 2017, a 16-year-old girl, who was returning home from her school in Mahasu are of Kotkhai, Shimla, went missing. Her naked body was found in the forest of Halaila on July 6. As per the initial investigation by the police SIT, Gudia was gang-raped and then murdered. The SIT on July 13 arrested six persons claiming that they cracked the case.

However, the family and locals were not convinced that these six accused, five of which were laborers and daily wagers, had committed the crime. The pubic, as well as the media, wasn’t convinced with the theory given by the police SIT. On July 18, public outrage was witnessed after one of these accused was killed in the police custody while locked up at the police station, Kotkhai. The locals pelted stones on the police staff and compelled them to leave the station. The station was then set on fire.

Under huge pressure from the public, then Congress-led state government asked the CBI to investigate the case. By the end of August 2017, CBI had arrested nine police officials including the head of the SIT Zahur H Zaidi, IG, Southern Range, DSP, Theog, Manoj Joshi, and six others for the custodial killing of Suraj. Later, the CBI also booked then Superintendent of Police, Shimla, D W Negi.

In its charge-sheet submitted to the court, the CBI had said that all six accused were falsely framed by the SIT.

The CBI had filed a separate case to investigate rape and murder of Gudia. The CBI team investigated for next eleven months without any success, thereby, facing backlash from the state high court over delay in the investigation. Ultimately, disappointed with the CBI, the court questioned the competence of CBI and asked its Director to appear personally before it.

Immediately after this summon, CBI claimed to have cracked the case in which a woodcutter was arrested. The case was considered to be closed thereafter.

However, doubts remain over botched up CBI investigation in the case.  

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