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Encroachment Of Water Bodies: Madras High Court Summons TN Chief Secretary Over Inaction In Preparing The List Of Water Bodies Across The State

Sebin James
8 Dec 2021 10:45 AM GMT
Encroachment Of Water Bodies: Madras High Court Summons TN Chief Secretary Over Inaction In Preparing The List Of Water Bodies Across The State
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In a matter pertaining to the illegal encroachments of water bodies, the Madras High Court has come down heavily on the concerned officers for not complying with the previous High Court Order for enumeration of water bodies across the state. The first bench of Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice PD Audikesavalu was hearing a suo moto petition that...

In a matter pertaining to the illegal encroachments of water bodies, the Madras High Court has come down heavily on the concerned officers for not complying with the previous High Court Order for enumeration of water bodies across the state.

The first bench of Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice PD Audikesavalu was hearing a suo moto petition that was registered pursuant to the apex court directions in reference to the encroachment of water bodies in the state and connected matters.

When the matter was taken up for hearing today, the bench also directed that Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu must remain present in court on the next date of hearing. The court has also demanded that the direction to collect the list of water bodies across the state must be complied with during the intervening period.

While pronouncing the order, the bench also orally remarked to Advocate General R Shumugasundaram that the officers must be warned for their inaction. Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari also added that the court will not allow any 'hanky panky' to continue in the encroachment of water bodies.

Previously, on 1st December, while considering a similar matter in WP No.22163/ 2018, the court had iterated the directions in its previous order dated 28th January, 2019. In the said order, paragraph 8 (i) –(iii) entailed a list of directions to the Chief Secretary and District Collectors to tackle water body encroachment. The gist of directions were as follows;

  • An Action Taken Report to be filed by the Chief Secretary explaining the progress made in implementing recommendations for rectifying the shortcomings of encroachment eviction,
  • Collectors of respective Districts to prepare a list of lands identified as water bodies in their revenue records and file an action taken report
  • The Chief Secretary, after collecting necessary data from the concerned Departments and Collectors of the various Districts, should file a Report showing the list of water bodies as found in the revenue records of the State.

In the January 2019 order, it was also instructed by the Court that the said reports shall be filed within 11th February, 2019.

Today, the court observed that the preliminary step to tackle the menace of water body encroachment has not been carried out even after the lapse of two years since the issuance of direction and the filing of innumerable PILs on the issue.

"We are recording the failure of officials to comply. It was not a big task for the respective collectors to identify the reservoirs/ waterbodies in each Districts by relying on the revenue records. There was not even a requirement of inspection to be carried out. Only once the water bodies are identified can one take the next step towards eviction of encroachments. The restoration of the encroached waterbodies can only happen after these steps. Despite the court granting a week's time again on 1st December to comply with the directions for making a list of waterbodies, the officers have defaulted. It was also mentioned in the said order that upon default, the officers will be summoned to the court."

"No leniency will be shown in this matter. The people shouldn't suffer on account of defaulting officers", the court added.

The court has also remarked that Government might not always be at fault, and there have been instances where encroachments popped up again after those were removed once.

Upon Senior Counsel P.S Raman's submission about two reports submitted, who is the amicus curiae in the matter of preservation of wetlands, the court indicated that it will deal with the issue of wetlands as well.

The court also mentioned that there have been recurring floods/ scarcity of water due to these illegal encroachments. The objective of the court would be to avoid such a situation next year, it was orally remarked.

Additionally, it was also observed that the pendency of PIL is no bar for the concerned officials to take swift action against encroachments and carry out the eviction process.

Case Title: . . v. Union of India & Ors  (Suo-Motu PIL)

Case No: WP/12653/2017 (PIL)


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