While Govt catnaps, will High Court intervention on illegal constructions prove effective?

Wide-Ranging Directions Passed On Master Plan Violations, Encroachments, Unregulated Colonizing, Uncontrolled Land Conversion, Unplanned Development

D A RASHID

Srinagar, May 14: While the state government seems to have shelved the report compiled by an official panel on illegal constructions in Srinagar city, latest intervention of Jammu and Kashmir High Court on menacing Master Plan violations and mushrooming encroachments has now generated some hope for action towards decongesting the city.
In two significant orders passed recently by the division bench of the High Court on two separate Public Interest Litigations (PIL), the state government has been asked to submit a detailed list of structures that have come up in violation of the Master Plan as also take steps to decongest Srinagar by not only removing encroachments but formulating a futuristic plan of action for the city’s planned growth.
On May 8, a Division Bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice MM Kumar and Justice Ali Muhammad Magray, while passing directions on a PIL Mujeeb Andrabi v/s State and Others, directed the District Development Commissioner Srinagar, Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) and Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to furnish details of all unauthorized constructions that have come up in the city over the years in violation of Srinagar Master Plan. Both the organisations have been asked to file the status report alongwith a copy of the Master Plan by the next hearing on May 22.
In the said PIL, the petitioner has prayed for issuing directions to the state government to remove hawkers from the core area of Srinagar city and provide them alternate space as also remove all illegal constructions by assigning supervisory powers to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. The petitioner had further prayed the high court take “strong note” of the constructions made illegally without permission and in violation of the Master Plan in Srinagar city and pass directions to the authorities concerned for demolishing such structures in the interest of the public.
The PIL had alleged that there was mismanagement of the traffic and civic responsibilities by authorities concerned. “This petition is filed to clear the hawker menace, which has made the life of the residents of Srinagar city miserable, traffic movement gets slowed down on the roads, which are already facing heavy vehicular movement,” the PIL had stated.
It is in place to mention that a high-level official committee constituted by the government in 2009 to report on Master Plan violations, had identified and compiled a comprehensive report on around 2500 “illegal” structures in the city including those owned by some “high profile people”.
The committee was headed by then Additional Commissioner, Kashmir Ishtiaq Ahmed Ashai and it included members from Srinagar Development Authority, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), Urban Local Bodies and Revenue Department.
But there was no follow-up action on the report following alleged overt and covert “political pressure” on the issue, especially, according to official sources, from a senior city-based politician in power. “Instead of taking action on 2500 illegal structures identified then, government facilitated hundreds of more violations since then due to inaction against the violators,” sources said.
An SMC official pleading not to be quoted said that the Court should ask the government not to undertake any constructions without seeking proper building permission from the concerned authorities. “Not only private persons even the government departments are the violators of Master Plan as they never seek permission for raising any infrastructure in the city including buildings resulting in unplanned growth,” he said.
Pertinently, a house committee of the Legislative Council (LC), constituted last year and headed by Devender Singh Rana, former advisor to CM, has also been tasked with probing violations of Master Plan in Jammu and Srinagar. The report compiled by the official panel in 2009 has already been submitted to the House Committee, sources said.
Earlier, Legislative Assembly also had in 2012 constituted a House panel, to look into the issue of mass conversion of agricultural land in HMT, Singhpora, Mujgund, Ranbirgarh, Pampore and other areas into unauthorized residential colonies.
“The High Court intervention has now generated some hope that there will be follow-up action on the report on Master Plan violations compiled by the official panel in 2009,” said an officer who served as a member of the committee, pleading not to be named.
Earlier, passing directions on another PIL, Human Watch International v/s State and Others, the division bench of the High Court comprising Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Ali Muhammad Magray, had directed the state government to come up with a detailed report on steps taken to curb the activities of illegal colonizers and stopping conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes. The government was also ordered to inform the Court about its plans to develop a new township on modern lines to accommodate the increasing population by planning innovative integrated housing projects.
“Keeping in view the population explosion and the limited land area available within the jurisdiction of SDA as allocated in Master Plan 2001-2021, some suggestions have been made in the court. The area allocated to residential zone has already been consumed. It has been pointed out that some area in the adjoining vicinity of Srinagar be developed fort accommodating the ever-increasing demand for residential purposes. A new township should be sufficient to accommodate the demand which has been repeatedly raised. In the days to come the official respondents shall explore the possibility of bringing out some plans in the adjoining area of the Srinagar city to accommodate increasing demand for residential purposes. Such course has been necessitated in order to avoid illegal activities of colonizers and also to provide planned development with all facilities,” the bench observed.
Although around 4500 kanals of land were almost a decade back transferred to SDA at Rakh-e-Gund Akshah for development of a new integrated satellite township, there has been no progress on the ambitious project due to administrative inertia. “The High Court direction on development of a new township has now generated hope that there will be some tangible action on the project,” an official dealing with the issue said.
The Court also directed the all the Deputy Commissioners in Kashmir to immediately stop wanton conversion of agricultural land into residential colonies in their respective districts and constitute special teams to prevent land conversion in their respective areas. Due to random conversion of Agriculture land, the State Government in 2011 decided to bring a law to ban the practice. However, the law is yet to see the light of the day.
In Kashmir alone more than two lakh kanals of agriculture land of the net sown or cultivated area of 3.5 lakh hectares has been converted for commercial and other purposes, revealed a report prepared by the Agriculture Department in 2011. The situation is no better in Jammu region, it said.
Besides, the Court had directed the Deputy Commissioner Pulwama to ensure that the land used for cultivation of Saffron at Pampore is reserved for the spice and ensure that no conversion and constructions are allowed on the land. However the area has been witnessing frequent conversion of the land for non-agriculture purpose, poising threat to survival of the saffron.
Taking serious note of the widespread and brazen encroachment of the passenger facilities at General Bus Stand Batamaloo, the High Court pulled up the state government on conversion of Terminal Building into an illegal shopping complex and sought a complete report within a fortnight on how come the infringement of the public facility took place.
The Court directed Vice-Chairman, SDA to “file detailed status report as to how the said bus stand has been converted into shopping complex and in terms of which orders allotments have been made.”
The division bench comprising Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Ali Muhammad Magrey also directed the VC- SDA to “disclose the mode and method adopted by them for such allotment and to produce the entire record on then next date of hearing listed for May 15.”
Pertinently the terminal building of General Bus Stand Batamaloo, instead of being a facility for passengers and transporters has been illegally converted into hundreds of cubical shops with passengers being forced to wait for transport under the open sky.
Around 400 shops have already come up inside the terminal building with authorities feigning ignorance on how this massive build-up took place within a past couple of months.
While the state government seems to have shut its eyes on brazen violations taking place in and around Srinagar, it is to be now seen how effectively the government acts on the High Court directions on the menacing issue of encroachments and illegal constructions.

WHAT THE COURT SAID
* Divisional Commissioner Kashmir shall ensure that no illegal constructions are raised in violation of the provisions of law

* DCs shall constitute special teams headed by Assistant Commissioner Revenue or Tehsildar to prevent any illegal land conversion in their respective areas

* SDA shall explore possibility of bringing out some plan in adjoining area of Srinagar city to accommodate increasing demand for residential purposes

* Development of a planned township has been necessitated to avoid illegal activities of colonizers as also to provide planned development with all facilities in accordance with law

* DC Srinagar, SDA and SMC asked to furnish details of illegal constructions carried out in Srinagar city in violation of the Master Plan

* Status reports filed by DCs, Commissioner SMC and Vice-Chairman SDA on illegal constructions and encroachments not in tune with orders passed by the Court and are, in fact, vague in content and information

* SDA to file detailed status report on how the Terminal Building of Batamaloo Bus Stand was converted into illegal shopping complex for vendors

* Senior Advocate Riyaz Jan appointed as Amicus Curie to assist the Court on the issue of illegal constructions and encroachments in Srinagar city

* Advocate General, M I Qadri informed the Court that residential areas are being recklessly converted into commercial hubs in violation of law

Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 May 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 May 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 15 May 2013 00:00:00 IST




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