J&K HC Appoints Expert Committee Under “Metro Man” E Sreedharan To Save Dal Lake [Read Judgment]
Court vigilance commissioners to inspect Dal Lake every day, submit report to HC
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has constituted a three-member ‘Committee of Experts’ headed by E Sreedharan, former chief of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation for ascertaining measures required to restore and preserve the world-famous Dal Lake which is shrinking due to illegal encroachment, untreated sewage from hotels and houseboats and uncontrolled growth of weeds.
A bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Dhiraj Singh Thakur took stock of the current situation of Dal Lake and the attitude of the local officials in handling the same and found that nothing much has changed despite the court passing a string of directions since year 2002 and State having spent Rs 400 crore to check issues plaguing Dal Lake.
“We have no manner of doubt that immediate measures are necessary before the critical situation is rendered hopeless. The record of the case…always manifest that local experts are unable to contain the malaise that besets the Dal Lake. It is, therefore, necessary to have an Expert Committee with, most importantly the vision and the experience of having successfully undertaken projects and issues which involve wide spectrum, multi-dimensional, multi-authority evaluations and resolutions,” said the bench.
Noting that there is a vigilance committee and a monitoring committee already in place, the bench ordered that given the limitations manifest from the outcome of efforts off these committees, it is necessary to have a committee of external affairs which shall be known as “Committee of Experts.
It then constituted the committee of experts comprising E Sreedharan, Dr. Nivedita P. Haran, IAS (Retired), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, Govt. of Kerala and renowned environmentalist M. C. Mehta, who is a native of Jammu and Kashmir.
While Mr Sreedharan would be the chairperson, Dr Nivedita would be the coordinator of this committee.
The bench also set out the terms of reference of this committee which includes ascertaining the status of the Dal Lake; ascertaining all measures required to be undertaken for its restoration, maintenance and preservation as well as all ancillary issues including securing the banks of the Dal Lake; re-settlement, relocation and rehabilitation of persons residing or carrying on business on its banks or in the Dal Lake (say in Houseboats etc.,).
The committee has also been empowered to rope in any national or even international expert to facilitate in the task of reviving Dal Lake.
For any legal assistance in Delhi and Kerala (where the members of the committee of experts are based), the court has appointed Senior Advocate and Former Solicitor General Sanjay Jain to be assisted by advocate Gautam Narayan, as Amicus Curiae.
In the State of Jammu & Kashmir, Senior Advocate A. H. Naik, assisted by advocate Farah Bashir, Advocate, are appointed as Amicus Curiae, to assist the Committee.
With regard to optimum licenses issued in favour of owners of hotels, houseboats and guest houses, the bench directed the State Government to prepare a list of such licenses and place them before the expert committee within two weeks.
“If the Committee of Experts concludes that the population of these hotels, guest houses, houseboats is beyond what would be ideal/optimum for the health of the Dal Lake, it would suggest measures for reducing them, as well as measures for closure/ rehabilitation/ relocation/ compensation and take steps for implementation thereof.
“In this view of the matter, we would direct the State authorities, for the time being, to withhold issuance of any further license towards these members till evaluation is received from the expert committee on these aspects,” the bench ordered.
The bench noted that “despite the High Court monitoring the matter since 2002, i.e., for over 16 years, despite over rupees Four Hundred crores of public money being pumped into the issues by the Government, the authorities within the State have proved helpless and unable to effectively ensure that some meaningful outcome results”.
The court had in year 2002 noted that the world-famous Dal Lake, spreading over an area of 50 Sq. Kilometers half a century back has shrunk to 13.5 Sq. kilometers, which meant that a little less than 3/4th of Dal Lake has been lost during last few decades.
A significant decrease in area of Dal Lake is mainly attributable to illegal constructions and encroachments because of such construction.
Way Back in 2002, the court had directed that within 200 meters from the centre of the foreshore road, wherever the road has been constructed no erection of buildings shall be allowed.
To ensure that its directions are implemented, the court banned the transportation of construction material in the restricted area but nothing changed.
The court was then left with no option and in year 2009, it took Dal lake in its own control and declared it Custodia Legis
Tracing the history of the case, the bench headed by Chief Justice Gita Mittal said, “Against the above backdrop we are of the view that prevention of construction activity in Dal Lake and within 200 meters from the edge of Foreshore road and other adjoining prohibited areas cannot be left exclusively to officers and officials of Lakes and Water Ways Development Authority (LAWDA)”.
It then appointed Mohammad Shafi Khan, retired District and Sessions Judge (former Principal District and Sessions Judge, Srinagar) and Abdul Hamid Bhat, former senior Superintendent of Police and Director Security Kashmir University as Court Vigilance Commissioners.
“The Commissioners shall inspect the Dal Lake area, as for as possible on daily basis and submit weekly report to the Registrar Judicial, High Court Wing Srinagar indicating therein, construction activity if any undertaken within Dal Lake and prohibited area, with necessary details like identity of the violator, nature of the construction and its dimensions etc. The Commissioners shall also report violation of any of the directions dated 19-07-2002, and passed thereafter like transportation of building material, earth filling, release of untreated effluents by any commercial establishment into Dal Lake,” it directed.Read the Judgment Here