Noting that increasing pressure of human activities was causing threat to the ecology in terms of landslides, earthquakes, cloudbursts, flash floods, snow avalanches, droughts and other disasters, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ruled against any new construction of any kind in Kasauli Planning Area (KPA) except in accordance with the area’s Development Plan 2021.
The tribunal has also directed against the construction of any structure beyond two storeys, leaving apart government hospitals, fire services, schools, colleges, buildings and public utilities on their approval by the Special Committee, just as in Shimla.
The tribunal passed the directions after perusing the report of the Special Expert Committee constituted to assess the viability and impact of a 42-room Hotel-cum-National Museum and Geo-park-cum-Restaurant project of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) on the ecology and carrying capacity of the Kasauli town in terms of tourist inflow, vehicular traffic, scarcity of ground water, availability of drinking water, impact on air quality and biodiversity among other factors.
On March 6, 2017, the tribunal had quashed the Consent to Establish to the project granted by the Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board, also noting that the permission for digging the borewell was granted by the Cantonment Board though the competent authority was the Himachal Pradesh Ground Water Authority.
The Special Expert Committee, in its report, had observed that over 60 percent of the area was without vegetation cover, leading to high soil erosion. It recorded that the site in question was in slope category of 15-25 degrees and partially to 35 degrees. The committee had recommended a slew of environment measures to be adopted in the area.
“The above resume of proceedings and rival contentions show that as far as the Kasauli Planning Area is concerned, many of the significant points raised by the Expert Committee have not been met, especially with regard to the water supply scheme, mapping of groundwater resources, solid waste management as well as sewage management,” a bench headed by Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goyal said.
“Synopsis filed on behalf of the State of Himachal Pradesh clearly show that so far there is no scheme for solid waste management,” the bench also comprising Justices Jawad Rahim and S.P. Wangdi, and expert member Dr. Nagin Nanda said.
Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Environs (SPOKE), the applicant in the case, had opposed the project on the grounds that the Kasauli town had a fragile ecology with massive groundwater scarcity and lack of basic facilities like sanitation and drainage. The applicant had also raised that there was no sewerage system in the area and the said commercial complex would further add to water scarcity, felling of trees, air and noise pollution besides clogging and congestion in the area.
The HPTDC countered the applicant’s case stating that the project was compliant with all environment laws.
“There will be no regularization of unauthorized constructions in the KPA and green/forest areas which have been raised without obtaining any prior permissible/sanction of plans in entirety. The concerned department shall ensure that no construction activity takes place where the slope is more than 45 degree/35 degree in any case, which should be prior to cutting of hills,” the order, passed on October 5, 2018, read, also asking the state government to strictly follow BIS Codes for containing landslides in KPA.
The tribunal has also fixed pecuniary liability of not less than Rs. 5 lakh on the person damaging or cutting hills without relevant permissions and sanction of the site plans, while limiting the rooms of the project from 42 to 32.
“We told the court that Kasauli has reached a stage of equilibrium where it can’t take any more human burden. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the Central Pollution Control Board had also said that the hotel should not come up,” Archit Upadhyay, counsel for the applicant, said.
“The committee also noted that the situation was worrying. Considering its observations, the tribunal passed the order, restricting the rooms to 32, besides imposing other conditions,” he said.
In order to look into the concerns, the NGT has also set up an oversight committee, headed by former Himachal Pradesh High Court judge Justice Surjit Singh.