On 11th September Hon’ble Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, the Supreme Court delivered a stinging 81 page judgement regarding construction in the Aravalli hills of Haryana, that will hold serious implications for the ongoing litigations with regard to preservation of ecology vs real estate development.
It showed, yet again, how the interests of the government are to collude with the private corporate developers at the expense of ecological considerations and public interest.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated the Town and Planning Department of the Government of Haryana had colluded with R Kant and Co. “ and effectively led a very large number of people up the garden path.”
The Court held that the 424.84 acres held by R. Kant & Co, was forest and forest land as it had been notified and closed under the Punjab Land Preservation Act in 1992.
Judges expressed regret that the Town & Country Planning Department of the State of Haryana had been supporting these illegalities. The court stated that ‘There is no doubt that at the end of the day, the State of Haryana comes out in very poor light and must be held accountable for its conflicting and self-destructive stand,’ The court expressed distress that the damage caused to the Aravalli hills is irreversible, due to influential colonizers like Kant and Co. and the a very strong mining lobby in Haryana.
The Hon’ble court said ‘The rule of law seems to have broken down in Haryana and become the rule of men only to favour the applicants. Hon’ble judges also stated, ‘It is not only the future generations that have to pay a heavy price for this environmental degradation, but even the present generation is paying a heavy price for the environmental and ecological degradation inasmuch as there is an acute water shortage in the area as prophesied by the Central Ground Water Board. In addition, what was once a popular tourist destination, namely, Badkal Lake has now vanished and the entire water body has become bone dry. What are the more severe consequences that will be felt in the years to come, only time and nature will tell.’
Apart from the status of the land, which was protected for forests, there was the issue regarding groundwater reserves, as water shortage was already a serious problem in the region.
The court ordered the following:
(i) R Kant and Co. to pay Rs. 5 crores to an Aravalli Rehabilitation fund which will be used to rectify some of the damage.
(ii) All plot holders to be given a full refund of their investment along with interest at 18% per annum payable entirely by R Kant and co. from the date of the investment.
(iii) Of the 33 personal constructions made, those made before Aug 18 1992, can stay.
(iv) The rest of the constructions will have to be demolished and have to be paid a compensation of 50 Lakhs jointly by Town and Country Dept and R Kant and company.
The orders of the court were to preserve and protect the environment in and around the Aravalli hills and generally avoid degradation through stoppage of both mining and constructions.
Courts confirmed that lands notified under the provision of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) in the state of Haryana must be treated as ‘forest’ and ‘forest land’, as done in earlier orders in the MC Mehta cases in 2002 and 2004, and has in fact been so treated for several decades by the State of Haryana. It added that there was no reason to change or alter the factual or legal position.
The order will strengthen the protection as forests of all areas notified under the PLPA in Haryana. Over 5000 ha in Gurgaon, and about 7000 plus ha in Faridabad are covered under the PLP Act.
The court also clarified that the Sandhu judgement of the honble Supreme Court of 2014 was passed in the context of Punjab and must be confined to its own facts, and is not of assistance to the applicant in this matter of Haryana. It held that the decision in Sandhu itself distinguished the M.C. Mehta set of orders both on facts and in law.
It further stated that the interpretation of Sandhu that the status of the subject lands ought to have been an existing forest as on 25th October, 1980 when the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into force, is incorrect.