August 18, 2021 11:14:12 pm
After coming down heavily on the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) two weeks ago for not taking action against structures near the Surat airport in violation of law, the Gujarat High Court in an order dated August 17, noted that the concerned authorities are not working “in tandem or in mutual cooperation but as if they were working in different silos or water tight compartments”.
The court also directed that if the directions are not complied with by the authorities on the given time frames, on the next date of hearing, three officials named in the order — Surat District Collector Ayush Oak, SMC Commissioner B N Pani, and Dinesh Chand Sharma, Joint Director General or his authorized next senior official in the office of Joint Director General from Delhi — will henceforth solely file affidavits giving an updated status report on each date of hearing.
The three officials will also have to remain present in the court on each day of hearing and “they may even be asked on the next date to make cash security deposits from their personal resources to ensure meticulous and punctual compliances on their parts,” the court order noted.
In a 2019 public interest litigation (PIL), party-in-person citizen Vishwas Bhambhurkar had highlighted that illegal constructions were permitted around the Surat airport, violating norms and requested such structures be evacuated and demolished.
While the division bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Umesh Trivedi had directed DGCA and SMC to file status reports without naming any specific officials, the bench took an adverse view during the August 17 hearing that the affidavit thus filed on behalf of SMC was by its town planner and not the commissioner BN Pani himself. In the order made public on Thursday, the court noted, “We view this lapse also on the part of Surat Municipal Corporation very seriously as the Commissioner has ventured not to respond to this Court by filing his own Affidavit and delegated this to a lower Officer, without seeking leave of this Court.”
Meanwhile, the DGCA on August 17 had submitted through its affidavit that 27 final orders were passed for demolition to the concerned builders who raised constructions beyond permissible limits. The Airport Authority of India (AAI) also highlighted before the court that apart from the 27 buildings found in violation against whom the demolition orders have been passed, two more builders have been notified of their violations.
The SMC submitted that the responsibility of demolition is with District Collector Ayush Oak, and as soon as they “receive the appropriate instructions from the District Collector, Surat, they will provide all logistic support and action support…”
Remarking that the court is at a “loss to appreciate and understand the time lag and long time period for which the said violations of constructions… have been permitted by the concerned authorities causing serious hazard to the Air Safety at Surat Airport,” the bench however granted the 27 builders permission to avail the remedy of appealing against the DGCA’s final orders of demolition.
The bench also curtailed the outer limit of filing such appeals — from 60 days to two weeks — thus directing that any such appeal by the 27 builders may be filed on or before August 31.
The DGCA and SMC were also directed to publish a summary of the court’s August 17 order, within a week so that no grievance on non-compliance of principles of natural justice can be claimed at a later stage.
The final orders thus along with the same being communicated to the Surat district collector, have to be filed before the Gujarat HC in the form of ‘Compliance Report’ by November 30 by Additional Solicitor General Devang Vyas. “We expect that a meticulous and punctual compliance of these time frames will be made by all the authorities jointly and severally.”
The court also made it clear that it did not appreciate the different authorities working in silos and passing the buck to one another.
“We have noted from the tenor of these two affidavits filed today before us and oral arguments that somewhat an effort is being made by the concerned authorities to act not in tandem or in mutual cooperation but as if they were working in different silos or water tight compartments… We direct that all the concerned Authorities will act in tandem and in full cooperation in the larger public interest..” the order notes.
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