THE PUNJAB and Haryana High Court has come down hard on the Chandigarh Administration for its “apathy, inaction and negligence” in the allotment and maintenance of government houses in the city. The court has suggested demolition of the old houses and sought a response from the authorities concerned on construction of multi-storied buildings as a replacement for the “obsolete” official accommodations.
Justice Rajiv Narian Raina in a detailed order has noted that a high-powered joint meeting of the representatives of the departments concerned — Housing Board chairman, secretary of House Allotment Committee, Municipal Commissioner, the Chief Architect, principal of Government Architecture College, PEC University director and the nodal officer from National Informatics Centre (NIC) — should be held under the supervision of the Adviser to the Administrator or the Home Secretary for resolution of the issues related to the government houses.
“There are a large number of government houses/flats of different types, which are either in a completely dilapidated condition or abandoned to become such, after having been vacated by the earlier allottees due to administrative apathy, inaction and negligence in maintenance of public property in disrepair. Lack of fixation of accountability seems to have made inroads for the same fermenting the malady over many decades of inefficiency and lack of transparency,” the High Court bench has said.
The High Court directions and observations came during the hearing of a petition filed by a High Court peon on the miserable condition of his official accommodation in Sector 24 of the city. Justice Raina after deliberations with the lawyers has formulated 16 issues and issued notices to the UT Chief Engineer, Chief Architect, principal of the Architecture College and PEC University director for assistance in the matter.
Suggesting that “multi-storied buildings with stilt parking with lifts” should be raised after demolishing the “obsolete” old houses in a phased manner, the High Court has said it will end the “rat race” among the allottees for ground floor accommodation. City Chief Architect and principal of the Architecture College have been specifically asked “whether there is any modern need today of government houses in the much congested Sector 22, Chandigarh”.
Asking if demolition of dilapidated single- and double-storied government houses constructed over five decades ago would not add more space in the city for official accommodation, the court has said the administration can start with identification of “single blocks with common roof for demolition and reconstruction to accommodate government employees in larger numbers waiting for allotment for many years”.
The High Court has also observed that usable and reclaimable land has been “eaten up” by the service lanes behind the government houses in Sector 22 which serve “no useful purpose in the present times” and could be utilised for creating new buildings. It has also stressed the need for taking feedback from the allottees on the repair work through the ‘e-Awas Programme’ website and suggested disbanding of the use of contractors for the repair works.
“There is visible and apparent lack of coordination between the Engineering, Maintenance and the House Allotment Committee presently with NIC in the picture which has developed a good programme, but still nascent and allowing room for improvement and fine tuning for easy access of data by the seeker,” Justice Raina said in the order. The chief engineer, secretary of the House Allotment Committee and the implementing officer of the Maintenance Wing have been directed to hold a meeting with NIC official Vijay Gupta for speedy data transference to the ‘e-Awas Programme’ for its success. The administration has also been asked whether the “Work Inspector Raj” in the government housing system can be replaced by an efficient computer system of bidding.
“It has emerged that the laxity of the Engineering Department over the years is mostly the impediment/culprit in the way of the allottee at every juncture and still worse its Field Staff/ Work Inspectors. In fact, the Head of Engineering should himself be empowered to take tough decisions in streamlining the process of maintaining Government Housing in good repair,” the High Court has said.
Justice Raina said the administration should discard its “archaic” heritage obsession. There was no heritage status involved in the government building housing employees in Sector 22, he said. The High Court judge said the mindset should be discarded to make way for a smart city to accommodate “more people in smaller space when land is not to be found and the city bound by its small boundary of no more 114 Sq. Kilometres”.
“One has to deal with and be alive to the felt necessities of the times and change with the changing times. Otherwise enterprise will be fossilized. The city will become architecturally decadent. Even law changes with the changing times. The administrator and the Court have to constantly adjust themselves to the changing times and social needs in housing. Both institutions, the executive and the constitutional judicial machinery owe this duty to one another compliment inevitable change as pragmatically as possible on utilitarian and evolutionary principles,” Justice Raina has said in the order.
Justice Raina said the administration has a huge responsibility to look ahead of times to create new spaces through taller, more aesthetically designed buildings. “The administration may like to view this as a challenge, a modern crusade to save Chandigarh from overcrowding in already congested areas/sectors. It is not enough to resign to ‘heritage’ and say: what cannot be cured must be endured,” the order reads.
Justice Raina has further said, “Heritage does not consist of brick and mortar, it comprises architectural reforms in diminished land. What may have been considered good in architectural design in the 50s (with paucity of funds at the command of the Central Government post- Independence) when the capital city was born and raised from the ground may not hold good today and to the contrary, may be absolutely out of sync with the present day needs of an expanding population the city reels under and will continue to suffer till hard decisions are not taken by the UT Administration multi-dimensionally.”