HC treats GK reports as PIL, orders status-quo on Rajbagh bridges

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday ordered a status-quo on conversion of skewed bridge opposite Presentation Convent School here into a footbridge as well as construction of a new bridge parallel to the Abdullah Bridge in the Rajbagh area.
HC treats GK reports as PIL, orders status-quo on Rajbagh bridges
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The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday ordered a status-quo on conversion of skewed bridge opposite Presentation Convent School here into a footbridge as well as construction of a new bridge parallel to the Abdullah Bridge in the Rajbagh area.

"Meanwhile, there shall be status quo with respect to the subject matter of the PIL till next date before the bench," a division bench of Justice Ali Muhammad Magrey and Justice D S Thakur said in its order.  The direction came after the court took suo-moto cognizance of Greater Kashmir reports highlighting how the state government was hell-bent upon destroying the ecology of Srinagar city and throw to ruins the historical heritage site—the Emporium Gardens—besides abandoning a well thought of and almost half-complete engineering plan at the cost of huge sums and showing scorn to a decision of High Court in another Public Interest Litigation.

It is for the fourth time that the court has taken cognizance of GK reports and treated these as Public Interest Litigation.

In its series of stories captioned "Government brings twist in 'skewed bridge' plan– decision taken to favour selected businessmen"; "Bizarre! After wasting Rs 8 crore, Government starts work on another bridge at Rajbagh; "Rajbagh Bridge: Environmental disaster in the making, say experts; "Rajbagh Bridge Row–Politics first, traffic woes can wait!"; "Rajbagh Bridge will take sheen off Emporium Garden", GK opposed the government's move.   

The bench issued notices to J&K Chief Secretary, Commissioner Secretaries of Planning,  Public Works,  Flood Control and Irrigation, Transport,  Floriculture; Director Archives, Archaeology and Museums, J&K; Chief Engineer PWD Kashmir; Chief Engineer, Flood Control and Irrigation, Kashmir; Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Director, Gardens and Parks, Kashmir; Managing Director, J&K Projects Construction Corporation, Srinagar; Deputy Commissioner Srinagar; Chief Town Planner Kashmir and Senior Superintendent of Police, Traffic, Srinagar, seeking their response within 10 days.  

These authorities have been asked to file their respective reports on affidavits in relation to the contents of the report made by the Registrar Judicial. 

"All these authorities shall submit their status reports on affidavits within 10 days. They shall also specify with all details what role they had to play and have actually played and/or what advice they have tendered in adhering to and/or changing the plan in question," the court said. 

While the court ordered that copies of the order and the note of the Registrar Judicial be served to the authorities on Monday itself, it said the order copies be also delivered in the office of the Advocate General against proper receipt.

The bench requested senior advocate, R A Jan, to act as Court Counsel and assist it in the matter.

In its report, the Registry of the High Court had submitted to the Chief Justice that the matter was of great public importance which required immediate intervention by the Court in public interest.

"The matter certainly sheds a great light on how the Government is adamant and bent upon destroying the ecology of the City of Srinagar in general and river Jhelum in particular," the report said.

The report underlined how the government abandoned the long before well thought of and almost half complete engineering plans at the cost of huge sums of public money of poor people having no dependable economic financial resources, except tourism. 

While the report highlighted how the historical heritage site and building, popularly known as Emporium Gardens, located in the heart of Srinagar was thrown to ruins, it pointed out the government's disregard to the court judgment dated 24.10.2013 passed in OWP (PIL) no.14/2013 titled Advocate Aftab Hilali Shah & ors versus State of J&K & ors. This PIL was filed on the grounds that the proposed bridge (popularly named as skewed bridge) was contrary to public interest, would adversely affect the environment and the security of the children studying in the School and that the decision was actuated by considerations other than public convenience or decongestion of traffic. It was also averred in the petition that there were certain powerful and influential persons behind the decision who would stand benefitted by the construction of the bridge at the site and that the construction was not supported by the Master Plan sanctioned for Srinagar. 

The reply affidavit filed by the Advocate General on behalf of the respondents gave the "factual matrix" of the case and the reply on same lines was filed by the Chief Town Planner. It was stated that the implementation of Project for 'Improvement to Road Communication System in Srinagar City' was approved by the government on 13.10.1981 and the Project envisaged construction of new roads and improvement, up-gradation and widening of some existing roads and construction of new bridges.

"In the Master Plan 1971-91 for the city, there was vision for the North-South corridor connecting the southern parts of the city with the core and northern areas and decision was taken by the Government to construct a 2-Lane Abdullah Bridge connecting TRC with Rajbagh. The bridge has only a two lane approach on the Rajbagh side". 

In the affidavit, the government had also stated that during the last decade, the bridge as well as the approach on Rajbagh side have become major bottlenecks for the traffic. "The location of the bridge has resulted in the dead mileage for north-bound vehicles in addition to the traffic congestion on the TRC and Rajbagh sides and it cannot be further burdened by having a parallel bridge, which will completely block the road as at two ends it is not bearing traffic load for 2-Lane, how it can bear 4-Lane traffic at same place and junction which will create chaos."

Through the affidavit, the government had further told the court that "the construction of bridge adjacent to existing Abdullah bridge is never a sound preposition technically as it has been observed during the last decade that the existing Abdullah Bridge with only a two lane approach on the Rajbagh side is working at around 50% capacity unfortunately as the bridge as well as the approach on Rajbagh side have become major bottlenecks for the traffic".

The government had also submitted that "the construction of bridge at the location of existing Zero Bridge is ruled out as this is one of the few heritage bridges left now". 

"The heritage of the Bund is not in any way going to get affected by construction of bridge at the location near Convent School as has been established through already three bridges existing in the vicinity of this bridge, i.e. Abdullah Bridge on the U/S side of the new bridge near Convent School. Zero Bridge on the U/S of the new bridge near Convent School, Foot bridge on the D/S side of the new bridge near Convent School," the government had said.   "The bridge location near Convent School has been chosen technically to relieve traffic congestion on Abdullah Bridge caused due to traffic jams at bridge head on both sides as well as on the Xing near Radio Kashmir."

 "The new bridge shall be used for one way traffic from Rajbagh end to Residency Road and traffic on Abdullah Bridge also to be one way from TRC to Rajbagh side as a short term solution till the flyover section is constructed.

The reply so filed by the State respondents, had, thus delineated the origin of the thought and the plan, its long term suitability and utility, its friendliness to environment and ecology, its strategies of road connectivity in the City, more particularly the impossibility of constructing a bridge parallel to Abdullah Bridge and the challenges and difficulties it would pose, and all necessary facts and facets"

The state authorities had also  pleaded in the affidavit that that construction of the bridge was thought of, proposed and designed after survey conducted by experts who analyzed each and every aspect, including environmental aspect, traffic movement, preservation of river and heritage and that there has been no parallel and contradictory expert opinion.

"As on the date of filing of the aforesaid reply, viz. 07.10.2013, 30% of the total plan had been executed and an amount of Rs.900 lakh of public money had been released to the executing agency for construction of the proposed bridge"

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