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‘Violating height norms’: HC pulls up DGCA, SMC over structures near Surat airport

Directing the authorities to file action taken reports and latest status reports by the next date of hearing, the court said on August 2, “else personal responsibility will be fixed” on the officials concerned and they will be asked to make cash security deposits from their personal funds.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
Updated: August 4, 2021 4:23:32 pm
A bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Umesh Trivedi on August 2 pulled up the authorities’ lax attitude towards the cause in the PIL, which “appear to be important”.

A division bench of the Gujarat High Court came down heavily on the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) for not taking action against structures near the Surat airport in violation of law, posing serious safety concerns.

Directing the authorities to file action taken reports and latest status reports by the next date of hearing, the court said on August 2, “else personal responsibility will be fixed” on the officials concerned and they will be asked to make cash security deposits from their personal funds.

In a 2019 public interest litigation, 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.

Demolition notices were issued to such buildings after a joint survey by the officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the SMC in 2018, but as noted in a court order in December 2019, “none of the authorities have taken it seriously”. The court also noted that while these offending buildings did not have building use permission, the SMC authorities allowed people to occupy the premises.

In December 2019, the authorities had sought six months’ time from the court “to take a final decision” with respect to the nearly 35 structures that were found violating the norms.

While the DGCA fixed a date for granting personal hearing to those issued notice for March 2020, it was submitted before the court in June 2020 that it had to be adjourned and subsequently Covid lockdown was imposed.

A bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Umesh Trivedi on August 2 pulled up the authorities’ lax attitude towards the cause in the PIL, which “appear to be important”.

The court observed, “…it appears that the responsible authorities of different departments, instead of taking concrete action, have tried to pass the buck and present a picture before the court that they have given notices to offending builders and parties for demolishing under 1994 rules and are engaged in the process of giving personal hearing for the last three years… Similarly, the Surat Municipal Corporation also seems to have rest contended only with giving of Notices to builders who violated the norms…”

The bench directed that DGCA to file the latest status report and an affidavit of the highest authority in Delhi, along with an ‘Action Taken Report’. “It is made clear that giving of notices and delaying the proceedings in the name of giving personal hearings will not be appreciated much by this court in the present PIL jurisdiction,” the court order added.

The SMC was also directed to produce the latest status report and action taken report against the offending buildings “as air safety in the Surat airport appears to be of supervening public importance and public interest”. “…the issues raised in this PIL cannot be brushed under the carpet…,” the order notes.

The court observed that the Aircraft (Demolition of Obstructions Caused by Buildings and Trees Etc.) Rules 1994 grants the government authorities ample powers to take suitable action in the matter and clarified that the court is thus granting a “last opportunity” to the authorities to file its reports before the next date of hearing on August 12.

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