Coming to the aid of rivers flowing through the state, the Uttarakhand High Court has restrained government agencies from allotting lands comprising the river bed or those covered under water.
It held that if any land was allotted in the river bed, it was bound to impede the flow of the river and would lead to illegal mining activities in the river bed. The high court also observed that allotment of such lands also tends to change the course of the river.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Manoj Kumar Tiwari also directed the Revenue Secretary of the state to inquire within three months into cases where such allotments have been done and cancel the allotment letters thereafter. The court has directed the revenue department to take action in all such cases in a further period of six weeks and file compliance report within 10 weeks.
Close to 20 rivers flow through the hill state of Uttarakhand. Some of them are Alaknanda, Mandakini, Bhagirathi, Ganga, Yamuna, Pindar, Gaula, Bhilangna, Dhauliganga (both in Garhwal and Kumaon), Kali, Kosi, Nayar (Eastern and Western), Ramganga, Saryu and Tons.
The court passed its final order on a petition filed by Dehradun resident Pawan Kumar, who claimed that the lands recorded as river in the revenue records were allotted by the government agencies. The petitioner cited various instances in Dehradun where lands earmarked as river under the revenue records were sold out or allowed for constructions.
The petitioner invoked Section 132(a) of the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms (UPZA &LR) Act, 1950, which states that bhumidhari rights shall not accrue in “(a) pasture lands or lands covered by water and used for the purpose of growing singhara or other produce or land in the bed of a river and used for casual or occasional cultivation”.
Counsel for the petitioner, Bhuwan Bhatt, said, “We apprised the court of several instances where such lands were first sold out and massive constructions raised on them thereafter. We argued that on any such land, the revenue department has no power to allot but still they were continuing with these unabated and allowing mutations, deeply motivated by corruption.”
“An enormous number of constructions have come up on rivers in Dehradun, Udham Singh Nagar, Haridwar and Nainital. Almost all river lands have been encroached upon in these districts so much so that even universities have been raised up in Haridwar entirely on a river land because of sheer corruption from the highest level in the governments,” Bhatt told LiveLaw.
“Across Dehradun, the Risapana, Bindal and Tons rivers have been entirely usurped with massive parking built upon them. The court accepted our submissions and passed the order, which shall provide big relief to the rivers of the state which have almost been completely killed under severe encroachments,” Bhatt said.
The state government contended the plea maintaining that whenever such instances were brought to its notice, stern action was taken and the allotments were canceled.
“Section 132 of the UPZA & LR Act starts with a non-obstante clause. The land cannot be allotted described as pasture lands, lands covered by water and used for the purpose of growing singhara and other produce or land in the bed of river and used for casual or occasional cultivation,” the order passed on August 10, said.
“The respondents-State is directed not to allot any pasture land, lands covered by water and used for the purpose of growing singhara and other produce or land in the bed of river forthwith,” read the order.
“The Secretary, Revenue, State of Uttarakhand is directed to hold inquire to ascertain number of cases in which the land has been allotted in breach of section 132(a) of the UPZA & LR Act, within a period of three months and thereafter to cancel the allotment letter by issuing notices to the aggrieved parties after the inquiry. Thereafter, the revenue authorities shall take action within a further period of six weeks,” the high court has ruled.
“However, it is made clear that no fresh allotment shall be made in breach of sub-section (a) of Section 132,” the order further held.