The Uttarakhand High Court has directed the District Magistrate, Pauri Garhwal to survey the land at the public Ganga Ghat of the river Ganges, and at places adjacent thereto, located opposite the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, mark its boundaries, prepare a detailed map in this regard, and place it before this Court by the next date of hearing.
A division bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma, have the direction while hearing a public interest litigation filed by one Vivek Shukhla, alleging that platforms, barricades and other buildings were constructed thereupon, including a huge building containing more than 1000 rooms, directed State Government shall not extend the lease of this extent of 2.39 acres, or confer any right thereupon, in favour of the first respondent, without prior approval of the court.
A letter of the magistrate states that an extent of 2.3912 acres was given on lease for a period of five years from January, 1957; and the said land belongs to the Forest Department. This letter discloses that the land was given on lease for the construction of a bathing ghat. The proceedings dated 23.02.1957 also records that the bathing ghats shall remain open to the general public for their bath and worship, and no impediment should be caused thereto by the first-respondent. The period of lease of five years, as stipulated in the proceedings dated 23.02.1957, expired in January, 1962.
However, for a period of 13 years thereafter till 1975, neither was the lease extended nor was any action taken by the Government to resume possession of the subject land. Subsequently, by letter dated 13.11.1975, the lease granted earlier was extended for a further period of 15 years from 01.01.1964 for the purpose of construction of a bathing ghat, a library, and a reading room. Even in terms of this letter dated 13.11.1975, the lease granted in favour of the first-respondent, (Muni Chidanand), expired on 31.12.1978. Thereafter, for the past more than four decades (nearly 42 years) neither has the lease been extended nor has the State Government taken action any to take back possession of the subject land.
Petitioner, argued that "An iron-grilled gate has been erected by the first-respondent on the path leading to the bridge constructed across the river Ganges, which is under his lock and key, and the general public does not have free access thereto." However, advocate Aditya Singh appearing for the respondent argued that "The grilled gate has been erected not on the bridge, but on the path leading to the bathing ghat. That the gate is locked merely for half an hour each day to enable the passage to the ghat to be cleaned."
The bench said "Public ghats are to kept open to the public at large, and since it is not the first-respondent's private property, there appears to be no justification in the first-respondent erecting either an iron-grilled gate, or in placing it under lock and key. Such an act also appears to run contrary to the proceedings dated 23.02.1957 which required the first-respondent not to cause any impediment to the general public entering the ghat both for the purposes of bathing and worship."
Following which it was assured that "No lock would henceforth be placed on the gate leading to the ghats, and no impediment would be caused to the general public taking a dip in the river Ganges from the subject path."
The bench directed the magistrate to specify, in the report to be submitted by him,whether the house, he has referred to in his affidavit, consists only of a library or is being used for any other purpose. He shall also inform this Court as to how land, which belonged to the forest department, was granted on lease to the first-respondent; whether these lands were re-classified in the revenue records, and if so when; and whether any other piece of land in the occupation of the first-respondent, adjacent or nearby to this extent of 2.39 acres of land, belongs to the State Government.