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Ecology outweighs TATA’s Housing Project for 95 MLA’s in the State of Punjab: SC [Judgme

TATA HOUSING DEVELOPMENT COMPANY LTD. VS. AALOK JAGGA AND OTHERS., CIVIL APPEAL NOS. 8398 OF 2019 ARISING OUT OF S.L.P(C) NOS.21375 OF 2017 – 05 November 2019.

The bench encompassing Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Shah and Justice B.R. Gavai collectively pronounced the judgment pertaining to environmental and wildlife degradation. Tata Housing Development Company Ltd, the appellant questioned the judgment and order dated12.04.2017 passed  by the Delhi High Court. The order passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana on 26.03.2012 was set aside. The writ petition was restored; the matters were transferred for the decision to the High Court of  Delhi. The judgment of the High Court which led to the questioning of the same is presented below:

“The project is not permitted on the ground that the area in question falls within the catchment area of Sukhna Lake and is 123 meters away from the boundary of Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary. The Survey Map of India dated 21.09.2004,demarcating the area of Sukhna Lake, is binding on the State of Punjab.The permission dated 05.07.2013, granted by the Nagar Panchayat, NayaGaon to Tata Housing Development Company Ltd. (Tata HDCL), is invalid. The environment clearance dated 17.09.2013, granted by State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) for development of the project is not in conformity with the Notification dated 14.09.2006 of Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), has also been set aside. It has also been ordered that if the permission is granted by the State of Punjab in favour of the appellant if it so desires, it may apply to Central Government for environmental clearance treating project category ‘A.’

A brief background of the instant case will act as an impediment to obstruct the acts similar to that of the appellant with regards to the flow of questions. The Tata HDCL proposed to develop a housing project titled ‘CAMELOT’ in the state of Punjab. The total project area is 52.66 acres and the proposed maximum height is 92.65 meters. It applied for environmental clearance from SEIAA, Punjab and was awarded “gold grading” by the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC). The MoEF recommended for environmental clearance in its meeting held on 09­10.11.2010. However, it called a report from Northern Regional Office, Chandigarh vide letter dated 14.10.2010 regarding the proposed project. And  in the report, the distance of the housing­cum­retail project “CAMELOT” from Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary was found to be 123 meters on Northern side and 183 meters on the Eastern side. Besides, the report stated that the project fell in the catchment area of Sukhna Lake as per the Survey of India Map. In the meanwhile, C.W.P. No.20425/2010 titled “Aalok Jagga vs. Union of India and others” was filed in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh, challenging the project to be in violation of the provisions of Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act, 1952 as well as the E.P. Act claiming that the project lies in the eco­sensitive and protected area, apart from falling within the catchment area of Sukhna Lake. Sarin Memorial Legal Foundation filed Writ Petition (Civil) No.994/2013 in this Court on 09.11.2013, under Article 32 of the Constitution of India challenging the decision of SEIAA, Punjab dated 06.09.2013 and it was subsequently disposed off by reason that the project of Tata HDCL will not be affected by earlier orders. The appellant however, continued to argue that they were entitled to proceed with the construction of the project in question. It is to be noted that the housing project was proposed for the ‘Punjab MLA Society’ for construction of residential houses of MLAs of Punjab Legislature. There is clear exercise of colourable abuse of power and it sufferers from legal malafides. There is a duty on the State to protect the wildlife sanctuaries and the buffer zones from being disturbed drastically.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court dwelled into the Directive Principles Of State Policy, Fundamental Duties of the citizens and the general principles and good conscience pertaining to the preservation of ecology.

Statutory expression in various enactments i.e., Wildlife (Protection) Act, E.P. Act etc., which have been enforced by this Court in various decisions. The inaction of State to constitutional and statutory duties cannot be permitted.   The Court has to issue appropriate directions to fulfil the mandate. Article 51(A) provides fundamental duty to protect and preserve environment, wild life etc.

The following landmark cases were given a deep thought and were useful in navigating the Court in the right direction.

  1. Animal and Environment Legal Defence Fund v. Union of India, was regarded to look into the earlier decision of the Court in order to protect flora and fauna with public trust doctrine.

  2. C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath and others, was brought in to consider the doctrine of public trust in detail. It was held that the contemporary concern about the environment bears a very close conceptual relationship with this legal doctrine.

  3. Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, this case was highlighted for the concept of sustainable development. The question that development is always opposed to ecology can be answered in affirmative using this concept.

  4. Intellectuals Forum, Tirupathi vs. State of A.P. and others, this case was brought into light for giving a wider interpretation to the phrase “sustainable development.”

  5. C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, here, the ‘Polluters Pay’ principle was evolved.

  6. In M.C. Mehta (Badkhal and Surajkund Lakes matter) vs. Union of India and others, Preventive measures have to be taken, keeping in view the carrying capacity of the ecosystems operating in the environmental surroundings under consideration was the driving actor.

  7. Indian Council for Enviro­Legal Action vs. Union of India and others, the contemporary concern for protecting the environment was stressed and the modern factors owing to the destruction of ecology were superseded by the citizens obligation as human beings to foster the environment they live in.

From the foregoing, the Hon’ble Supreme Court pronounced the following Judgment:

“In the aforesaid facts and circumstances of the case, considering the distance of 123 meters from the Northern side and 183 meters from the Eastern side of the project in question from wildlife sanctuary, in our opinion, no such project can be allowed to come up in the area in question. The State of Punjab has failed to act on the basis of Doctrine of Public Trust as only the 95 MLAs were to be the recipients of the flats. It is clear why Government has not been able to protect the eco­sensitive zone around a Wildlife and has permitted setting up of high­rise buildings up to 92 meters in the area in question. Resultantly, we hold that such projects cannot be permitted to come up within such a short distance from the wildlife sanctuary. Moreso, in view of the Notification issued towards the side of Chandigarh Union Territory and also considering the fact that proposal made by the Punjab Government, confining the Buffer Zone to 100 meters, has rightly not been accepted by MoEF. The Court has to perform its duty in such a scenario when the authorities have failed to protect the wildlife sanctuary eco­sensitive zone. The entire exercise of obtaining clearance relating to the project is quashed. We regret that such a scenario has emerged in the matter and that it involved a large number of MLAs of Punjab Legislative Assembly. The entire exercise smacks of arbitrariness on the part of Government including functionaries. Thus, we dismiss the appeals with the directions mentioned above.”

We, being the wheels on the life vehicle of tomorrow, we got to keep the acceleration in control. The duty is to preserve and not to pave way for destruction.

Jumanah Kader

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