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The Opaqueness of the Collegium Orders and Resignation of a Competent Lady Judge 

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Why Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani Resigned e

Shimla-Justice of Madras High Court “Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani”, Days after the Supreme Court Collegium declined her request for reconsideration of transfer to Meghalaya High Court, has preferred to resign rather than to succumb to the order of the collegium.

Justice Tahilramani is one of the senior-most judges and one of the two women High Court Chief Justices.  She was the third woman to assume the charge of Chief Justice at the Madras High Court.

The Collegium had ordered on September 3 that the transfer was recommended in the interests of “better administration of justice”. No other reason was provided in the transfer order.

The Madras High Court is one of the oldest and the fourth largest in the country, whereas the Meghalaya High Court is among the smallest. The transfer was being seen as a punishment by many as it is rarely seen that a serving Chief Justice of a big High Court is given a charge of a smaller High Court. From being the Chief Justice of a court that has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges, Justice Tahilramani was chosen to head a High Court with just three judges.

Instead of accepting her obviously humiliating transfer, Justice Tahilramani has chosen to resign.

As the acting Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Justice Thaliramani in May 2017 upheld the conviction of 11 people for life imprisonment in the “Bilkis Bano gang-rape case” (March 3 in 2002, during the riots, 14 people –  including four women and four children – were killed while 19-year-old Bilkis Yakub Rasool who was 5 months pregnant was gang-raped in a moving truck and left to die. But she survived the brutality and fought for justice). As a judge of the Bombay High Court J. Thilaramani had ruled that 11 of the accused deserved life sentence.

In another important case as a judge of Bombay High Court, Justice Thaliramani laid down guidelines regarding pregnant women prisoners.

She rejected the plea of 1993 serial blasts convict to be released on parole to attend to his ailing wife in one of her last judgements for the Bombay High Court.

“Consideration of sympathy for him cannot be permitted to overshadow the consideration regarding the security of the society,”

the division bench of the acting Chief Justice and another judge had observed.

Is “Better Administration of Justice “a “Self-Explanatory Reason”?- The Opaque and Arbitrary Decisions by the Collegium 

If the judiciary has to be a bulwark for the protection of the “rights of the individual” and mete out even-handed justice without fear and favour” then it should be independent.

Exercise of the judicial function is one which requires more than any other work a proper balance of mind and an undisturbed and peaceful life. Administration of justice cannot properly be done by a disgruntled judge. If transfer hangs over his head as a Damocles’ sword, the balance of justice slips out of his hand. An immediate and unnoticed transfer may cause so great inconveniences that it may compel him to quit rather than comply with the transfer order.

In the judges’ case, the Supreme Court held that the consent of the judge was not necessary for his transfer from one High Court to another. According to the Court, there are three safeguards against arbitrariness in the use of the President’s power to transfer judges under Article 222. They are:

  1. There must be full and effective consultation with the
    Chief Justice of India.
  2. The power of transfer can be exercised in public interest only and not by way of punishment.
  3. Judicial review of the decision of the President to
    transfer a judge.

However, do these safeguards suffice to preserve the independence of the judiciary, one of the cardinal faith of the Constitution? Judges, unlike government servants, judges hold an office under the Constitution and there is no master-servant relationship between the government and the judge. A close study of Sankal Chand’s case and the Judges case would reveal that the Supreme Court has miserably failed to bring out the clear distinction between the transfers by punishment and transfers in public interest or in the present matter, as the order put it, “for better administration of justice“. These expressions are not capable of any precise definition and in a given set of circumstances may be applied differently by different people. In many cases, it would not be possible to rule out some element of a penal character. The present procedure, as it stands, has instead of limiting the scope of transfers only enhanced its scope by giving a very elastic definition of public interest and ‘better administration of justice”.

The great Mr. Palkhiwala, after examining the Judges’ case had rightly pointed out that the dichotomy was not between transfer in public interest and “for better administration of justice” and transfer by punishment, but the dichotomy was between transfer in’ public interest’ and transfers for ‘extraneous considerations’. According to him, the object of the transfer and not the result, or effect, of the transfer is the decisive factor. the object of the purpose needs to be clearly spelt out in such orders and this cannot be done in a slip-shod manner.

Justice Bhagwati in Sankal Chand’s case and reiterated in the Judges case that the “transfer is made consensual” was the only effective safeguard for a judge against arbitrary transfer and only if such an interpretation is accepted, the noble concept of independence of the judiciary can be preserved. This view is shared by many eminent jurists, judges, lawyers etc. The Lord Chief Justice of England, Hon. Lord Lane, speaking on “Standards of Judicial Independence” expressed the view that a judge ought not to be liable to be transferred from one High Court to another without necessarily seeking his consent. Justice H. R. Khanna, a former judge of the Supreme Court, regretted that the Law Commission’s recommendation that no judge should be transferred without his consent unless a panel consisting of the Chief Justice of India and his four seniormost colleagues find cause for such a course has fallen into deaf ears.

The resignation of the Hon’ble  Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani is another dark chapter in the matters of transfers of the judges of the Superior Courts. The Hon’ble judge not only ‘did not give her consent‘ but also ‘opposed her transfer by writing a letter to the collegium’. Better administration of justice can be achieved by providing detailed reasons to the Hon’ble judge and to the people of India. Transfers without reason can instil fear in the minds of the judges, the first casualty of which would obviously be the justice itself.

The constitutional provision (Article 222) on the transfer of judges has a direct and proximate connection with the independence of the judiciary. This provision, like many other constitutional provision, can be made use of for achieving many useful purposes as well as evil purposes until a clear and reasonable interpretation is given to the Article keeping in view the principle of “independence of the judiciary”  in mind. Its abuse will have many dangerous effects on the judiciary and its independence. If the judiciary loses its independence and becomes subservient, the net result would be that the Constitution will lose its prominence. Justice Khanna has aptly put it like this:

“Once the independence of the judiciary is undermined and the seats of Justice came to be occupied by men with pliable conscience’ and subservient to the political wing of the State, the first casualty would necessarily be the supremacy of the Constitution, for it, would be open to every branch of the State to ride roughshod over the provisions of the Constitution.”

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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 khannadeven@gmail.com. The personal blog is at https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/

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A Roar of a Lion- Right to free speech, Right to Dissent, Sedition and Majoritarianism

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Justice Deepak Gupta's Fearless Speech 2

Of Roaring Lions and Squeaking Mice!

Francis Bacon had once described the judges as ‘Lions under the throne.”However decades later in the famous Second World War case of Liversidge v Anderson, where Lord Atkin delivered his powerful dissenting speech, he commented on the arguments of the lawyers and stated that this level of reasoning would have been acceptable to the Court of Kings Bench in the time of Charles I (a monarchy) but not in a democracy, sadly this reasoning was accepted by all of his brother judges. The subjective interpretation adopted by his brother judges who were then pleasing to politicians provoked a letter to Lord Atkin from Mr Justice Wintringham Stable. The letter expressed approval of Lord Atkin’s dissent, and then added:

“I venture to think the decision of the House of Lords has reduced the stature of the judiciary, with consequences that the nation will one day bitterly regret. Bacon, I think, said the judges were the Lions under the throne, but the House of Lords has reduced us to mice squeaking under a chair.

The time is right to celebrate the courage shown by one of our very own, Justice Deepak Gupta, who has roared like a lion in times where just speaking against the ruling Governments would amount to sounding of the death knell for some. In times where we have judgments after judgments trying to bypass the constitution in novel ways so that the mighty and the powerful may not get offended (remember the dissent of Justice Chanderchud where he talks of a fraud played on the constitution and present grant of adjournments in habeas corpus petitions in SC), in times where police is more active in catching hold of people who have written something on their facebook wall or WhatsApp (under an extinct provision of Section 66A) rather than looking for rapists and murderers, in times where a lawyer if he knows the politician he becomes a judge or an advocate general, in times where dissatisfaction with the government will brand you as an anti-national, in times where freedom of speech is being attacked across the country and fight for human rights and civil liberties is undermined in every nook and corner, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and our very own, ‘son of the soil’ has had the spine to publically say THE TIMELESS TRUTH of our democracy.

The Hon’ble Judge expressed himself On September 7. The following are edited excerpts of his lecture.

Right to Dissent

There cannot be any democratic polity where the citizens do not have the right to think as they like, express their thoughts, have their own beliefs and faith, and worship in a manner which they feel like.

The right to freedom of opinion and the right of freedom of conscience by themselves include the extremely important right to disagree.

Thus, the right to dissent is one of the most important rights guaranteed by our Constitution. As long as a person does not break the law or encourage strife, he has a right to differ from every other citizen and those in power and propagate what he believes is his belief.

Every society has its own rules and over a period of time when people only stick to the age-old rules and conventions, society degenerates. New thinkers are born when they disagree with the well-accepted norms of society. If everybody follows the well-trodden path, no new paths will be created, no new explorations will be done and no new vistas will be found. If a person does not ask questions and does not raise issues questioning age-old systems, no new systems would develop and the horizons of the mind will not expand.

Whether Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak Dev, Martin Luther, Kabir, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Karl Marx or Mahatma Gandhi, new thoughts and religious practices would not have been established, if they had quietly submitted to the views of their forefathers and not questioned the existing religious practices, beliefs and rituals.

In a secular country, every belief does not have to be religious. Even atheists enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. Whether one is a believer, an agnostic or an atheist, one enjoys complete freedom of belief and conscience under our Constitution. There can be no impediments on the aforesaid rights except those permitted by the Constitution.

The judgment of HR Khanna, J. in A.D.M. Jabalpur case, is a shining example of a dissent which is much more valuable than the opinion of the majority. This was a judgment delivered by a fearless, incorruptible Judge. Judges are administered oath wherein they swear or affirm to perform the duties to the best of their ability without fear or favour, affection or ill will. First and foremost part of the duty is to do one’s duty without fear.

Law of Sedition

It was enacted at a time when India was ruled by a foreign imperialist colonizing power. The British brooked no opposition and did not want to listen to any criticism. Their sole aim was to deprive the people of this country of their rights including the right to express their views.

Interestingly, though sedition was an offence in the first draft of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) drafted by Lord Macaulay, somehow this did not find its way into the IPC when it was enacted in the year 1860. The IPC was amended in the year 1898 when Section 124A was introduced.

When Section 124A was first introduced, we were told that this provision was not to curb legitimate dissent but was to be used only when the writer or the speaker directly or indirectly suggested or intended to produce the use of force.

Interestingly, another reason given was that there was a Wahabi conspiracy by a man who had preached Jihad or holy war against Christians in India and therefore the need to introduce such a provision.

Though Section 124A was inserted for fear of Muslim preachers advocating Jihad or religious war, it was initially used against Hindu leaders. The first such case was of Jogendera Chunder Bose wherein in a newspaper called Bangobasi, the Editor objected to the English rulers raising the age of consent of sexual intercourse for Indian girls from 10 to 12 years.

Subsequently, the British used the law of sedition to curb any demand for independence said Gupta citing the case of Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

I would also like to refer to the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who in this city of Ahmedabad was charged with sedition. Appearing before Sessions Judge Broomfield, Mahatma Gandhi while dealing with the word ‘disaffection’ had this to say: “Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence.”

I think this brilliantly sums up what I want to say today that mere criticism without incitement to violence would not amount to sedition. However, the Mahatma was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for 6 years.

You cannot force people to have affection for the government and merely because people have disaffection or strongly disagree with the views of the Government or express their disagreement in strong words, no sedition is made out unless they or their words promote or incite or tend to promote or incite violence and endanger public order.

However, in present times there is no healthy discussion but only shouting and slanging matches, lamented Justice Gupta. If one does not agree with another, that person becomes an anti-nationalist.

There is no advocacy on principles and issues. There are only shouting and slanging matches. Unfortunately, the common refrain is either you agree with me or you are my enemy, or worse, an enemy of the nation, an anti-nationalist.

The constitutional validity of Section 124A has to be read in the context of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Thus, advocating any new cause however unpopular or uncomfortable it may be to the powers that be, it must be permitted.

Sedition can arise only against a government established by law. Government is an institution, a body and not a person. Criticism of persons cannot be equated with criticism of the government….Criticism of senior functionaries may amount to defamation for which they can take action in accordance with law but this will definitely not amount to sedition or creating disharmony.

Police cannot deal with law and order problems but have time for sedition

Majoritarianism Can’t be Law

During the dark days of Emergency, an attempt was made by one party President to equate his leader with the country. I am sure that no one will ever try in future to equate a personality with this country of ours which is much bigger than any individual.

A majority government does not mean that minority voices should not be heard. Majoritarianism cannot be the law. Even the minority has the right to express its views. We must also remember that in India we follow the first past the post principle. Besides, he also stated that even Governments which come in with a huge majority do not get 50% of the votes. Therefore, though they are entitled to govern or be called as the majority, it cannot be said that they represent the voice of all the people.

The police always claim to be short of forces when questioned about the adverse law and order situation in various parts of the country. Trials in criminal cases of rape, murder and crimes falling under POCSO carry on for years on end because police officials do not have time to even depose before the courts but when it comes to sedition or Section 153A or implementing the provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (which has been declared unconstitutional), there seems to be no shortage of manpower and the police acts with great alacrity.

It is, thus, clear that there is one set of rules for the rich and the powerful and another set of rules for the ordinary citizens of the country. In a country which professes to live by rule of law, this cannot be permitted.

Thus, the law of sedition is more often abused and misused and the people who criticise those in power are arrested by police officials on the asking of those in power and even if a person may get bail the next day from the court, he has suffered the ignominy of being sent to jail. The manner in which the provisions of Section 124A are being misused, begs the question as to whether we should have a relook at it. Freedom of expression being a constitutional right must get primacy over laws of sedition. Sedition is a crime only when there is an incitement to violence or public disorder.

But the law as laid down in Kedar Nath Singh’s case regarding sedition is not being followed.

‘Right to Criticise Government’

I think our country, our Constitution and our national emblems are strong enough to stand on their own shoulders without the aid of the law of sedition. You may force or compel a person to stand while the National Anthem is being sung, but you cannot compel him within his heart to have respect for the same. How does one judge what is inside a person’s mind or in his heart?

In Chhattisgarh, a 53 years old man was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly spreading rumours over social media about power cuts in the State. It was said that this was done to tarnish the image of the then Government running the State. The charge was absurd and again highlights the misuse of power. In Manipur, a journalist made a vituperative attack on the Chief Minister of the State and used totally unparliamentary language against the Prime Minister of the country. The language was intemperate and uncalled for but this was not a case of sedition.

Criticism of government by itself cannot amount to sedition. India is a powerful nation, loved by its citizens. We are proud to be Indians. We, however, have the right to criticise the Government. Criticism of the Government by itself cannot amount to sedition. In a country which is governed by the rule of law and which guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief to its citizens, the misuse of the law of sedition and other similar laws is against the very spirit of freedom for which the freedom fighters fought and gave up their lives.

The shoulders of those in power who govern should be broad enough to accept criticism. Their thinking should be wide enough to accept the fact that there can be another point of view. Criticism of the policies of the government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence. The people in power must develop thick skins. They cannot be oversensitive to people who make fun of them. In a free country, people have the right to express their views.

Everybody may not use temperate or civilised language. If intemperate, uncivilised and defamatory language is used, then the remedy is to file proceedings for defamation but not prosecute the persons for sedition or creating disharmony.

Judiciary Not Above Criticism

In fact, I welcome criticism of the judiciary because only if there is criticism, will there be an improvement. Not only should there be criticism but there must be introspection. When we introspect, we will find that many decisions taken by us need to be corrected.

Criticism of the executive, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the Armed Forces cannot be termed sedition. In case we attempt to stifle criticism of the institutions whether it be the legislature, the executive or the judiciary or other bodies of the State, we shall become a police State instead of a democracy and this the founding fathers never expected this country to be.

Section 66A of the IT Act, which put restrictions on the freedom of expression in an online space, is still being used by the lower judiciary and the police, even after being struck down in the Shreya Singhal case.

It does not speak well of the Indian judiciary that the magistrates are unaware of the law of land, and day in and day out, we hear of magistrates granting judicial custody or police remand in relation to such offences.

Cyber Bullying

The recent trends have instilled fear in people when it comes to expressing their opinions on criticising governments in power. A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power. No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens.

No doubt, the views must be expressed in a civilised manner without inciting violence but a mere expression of such views cannot be a crime and should not be held against the citizens. The world would be a much better place to live if people could express their opinions fearlessly without being scared of prosecutions or trolling on social media. It is indeed sad that one of our celebrities had to withdraw from social media because he and his family members were trolled or threatened of dire consequences.

‘Nationalism is a Great Menace’

Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore had a view on nationalism, which is the anti-thesis of the view which many of us have. He, in fact, had not appreciated the Satyagrah movement. He, who wrote the National Anthem also held the view that ―nationalism is a great menace. I do not agree with those views nor did eminent leaders of that time but this did not make Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore less an Indian, less a patriot than any of his contemporaries. Merely because a person does not agree with the Government in power or is virulently critical of the Government in power, does not make him any less a patriot than those in power. In today‘s world, if any person was to say ―nationalism is a great menaceǁ he may well be charged with sedition.

If this country is to progress not only in the field of commerce and industry but to progress in the field of human rights and be a shining example of an effective, vibrant democracy then the voice of the people can never be stifled. I can do no better than quote the words of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls.

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary deserts and of dead habit.

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action.

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

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“Shimla Town Hall’s” Dignity Restored as High Court Bars its Conversion into Govt Office

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HP High Cour Order on Shimla Town Hall

Shimla-The issue of utilizing the British-era Town Hall building for ‘public purpose’ and not as a ‘Government Office’ was settled by the Hon’ble High Court today in a public interest writ. The Municipal Corporation building or the Town Hall is located on the Mall Road. Originally this heritage building was designed as ‘New Library and Offices’ by a Scottish Architect, Mr. James Ransome. The original building, designed as a library, was constructed in 1908, but after a few decades, the offices of the Municipal Corporation came to be located in the said building.

Recently, this heritage site was restored under an exhaustive Rs 6 crore conservation project. Asian Development Bank-funded the restoration of the building, stating it to be a “priceless architectural marvel”.

A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice V Ramasubramanian and Justice Anoop Chitkara on September 6, 2019, passed an order, which stated that the building should be used only for ‘public purposes’ and not to house any ‘Government Office’ other than that of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

The Hon’ble Chief Justice V Ramasubramanian stated:

While there can be no objection to the location of the offices of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor in the Town Hall, the location of the offices of the Commissioner and other allied officers will certainly convert the heritage building into a full-fledged Government office. While the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor may not be required to sit throughout the day in the office, the Commissioner and his Deputies may be required to sit in the office throughout the day for six days a week. They may also have to deal with the public, who may have to seek the services of or the statutory.

Further, the Hon’ble Chief Justice stated:

We are of the considered view that while permitting the Municipal Corporation to locate the offices of the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor in the Town Hall, the Municipal Corporation, in consultation with the Government, should come up with innovative ideas to put the Town Hall to best use (i) from the point of view of preserving the heritage, and (ii) so as to derive income from such activities which will showcase the beauty of the hill station and the culture and traditional arts of the people of the State”

As such, the MC Commissioner, Joint Commissioner, and other officials whose offices were located in this heritage site will now have to be accommodated elsewhere.

The court also directed that the MC in consultation with the state government may put to use the rest of the area for housing a high-end café with reading facilities, Information Centre and boutique of traditional arts and crafts for attracting tourists and enriching the cultural experience. The court also directed that an entry fee can be imposed which will provide handsome revenue to the MC.

There was a long-term demand from civil society and citizens that the iconic building must be put to some good use and be developed as a tourist attraction, considering its location in the heart of the town. Today’s order comes as a welcome step for the people of the town and for those who are visiting it.

This heritage building will no longer be a dwelling place of the “babus”, but rather will be a center of attraction – a place to showcase the heritage, art, and creativity of the locals and a place of recreation and learning for the travelers.

Feature Image: Abhishek Lal

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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.

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