30 Jan 2023 7:18 AM GMT
The Himachal Pradesh High Court recently directed the State government to frame a policy for conservation, preservation and cutting of hills in consultation with the Department of Environment, Science and Technology and such other departments, as may be necessary, within two months. The direction came from a bench comprising then Chief Justice A A Sayed and Justice Jyotsna...
The Himachal Pradesh High Court recently directed the State government to frame a policy for conservation, preservation and cutting of hills in consultation with the Department of Environment, Science and Technology and such other departments, as may be necessary, within two months.
The direction came from a bench comprising then Chief Justice A A Sayed and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua while hearing a Public Interest Litigation in terms of which the petitioner had highlighted the indiscriminate and haphazard constructions on either side of the road stretching an area of 6 Kilometers between Village Kheel Jhalsi to Village Kainthari (including Village Koro) in District Solan.
The bench taking serious note of the concerns raised, had in its earlier order dated 27.09.2022 extended the scope of the PIL to include the entire State of Himachal Pradesh, so as to ensure that the constructions/development activities, in particular, by cutting and chopping the hills was regulated by the State and its functionaries.
Expressing its concern with regard to the uncontrolled and unsafe construction of buildings over the years over slopes, by cutting hills which mostly involves felling of trees, leading to landslides and has created extremely vulnerable environment in the State, the bench observed that a large number of trees are being felled or damaged in the process of carrying out such constructions, which adversely impacts the environment and ecology of the area.
Elaborating further on the matter the bench observed that there are several areas in the state where constructions and development activities are being carried out with impunity at the whims and fancies of the owner or developer and the Court cannot turn a blind eye over the matter and is hence constrained to step in to ensure that development activities in the State, including by cutting hills, are regulated and the principle of sustainable development is adhered to.
Pointing out to the inaction and failure on the part of the state government and its authorities, including the local authorities, to control the haphazard and indiscriminate development activities and in discharging their statutory duties under the Panchayati Raj Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1988 and the constitutional obligations under Article 48-A of the Constitution of India, Court observed,
"The State, as a trustee, is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources and the environment and prevent its degradation under the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’. Moreover, there has been nonobservance of principles of ‘sustainable development’ as well as ‘pre cautionary principle” by the State".
It said the state, as a trustee, is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources and the environment and prevent its degradation under the 'public trust doctrine'. If there is risk of severe damage to humans and environment, absence of incontrovertible conclusive or definite scientific proof would not be a reason for inaction.
The bench accordingly directed that there will be no cutting of hills in Himachal Pradesh, unless permission is obtained from the director, who will call for a report and "no objection certificate" from the Pollution Control Board, before granting such permission.
The bench further directed the State Government to frame a policy document in respect of conservation and preservation of hills and cutting of hills in the State, in consultation with Department of Environment, Science and Technology and such other Departments, as may be necessary, including the Pollution Control Board within 2 months from today.
"We hope and trust that the authorities of the State Government comply with this order in letter and spirit so as to save this beautiful State of Himachal Pradesh from further haphazard and indiscriminate constructions/development activities, particularly by cutting hills, which is causing immeasurable harm to the environment and which is in violation", the bench concluded.
Case Title: Kusum Bali Vs State of HP & Ors.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (HP) 7
Click Here To Read Order