Pulling up the Punjab government in a case related to infrastructure and functioning of Chandigarh International Airport, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday summoned the chief secretary on Monday for assistance and directed Advocate General (AG) Atul Nanda to remain present in the matter at each hearing in future. The court on Thursday also asked the Haryana advocate general to remain present during next hearing on Monday.
As the Assistant Solicitor General of India claimed in the court that Punjab has earned around Rs 10,000 crore because of the airport’s location in Mohali and submitted that the government, despite that, does not want to contribute even a penny towards its development, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Krishna Murari and Arun Palli orally observed that it will ask the state to pay Rs 5,000 crore for the airport.
“We will record that we are not able to make the airport functional because of the Punjab government,” observed the court. “Your officials have made a mockery of the court. In such an important matter, a junior engineer is here. Why should we not call your Chief Secretary? You are the major stakeholders.”
What angered the court?
The Court previously had issued orders against encroachment around the boundary wall of the airport, for drainage connectivity and clearing vegetation outside the Air Force boundary. On Thursday, the government submitted an affidavit informing the court there is one illegal construction – a part of a house – falling over a drain in Mohali district. But, the court was told that they are facing certain impediments in the process of removal of the encroachment as the person has filed a civil suit.
“We are fed up. Your officers are waiting for an injunction. Call the Advocate General because we do not want you to be held responsible for the order which we are about to do,” the bench told the government counsel.
The state informed the court that they had issued notice to the owner of the property on September 26, 2018, to which he had replied in an affidavit saying he will “timely” remove the encroachment. As the court enquired as to when the reply was filed, the government counsel could not answer readily and then submitted it was November 19.
“Where is the time (limit) in the affidavit? Without specifying time (for demolishing the encroachment), he has given himself the (unlimited) time and you have accepted it,” the court observed as it enquired about any time limit sought by the house owner. A junior engineer of drainage department had been sent for assistance to the counsel.
The division bench observed, “This is the respect they have for the court.”
The government counsel told the court that there is no injunction from the lower court and they can take action against the encroachment. However, the court was not convinced.
How did Punjab revenue come in picture?
As the court was angry over the lack of action in the matter related to the encroachment, it asked Assistant General of India Chetan Mittal regarding his earlier statement that Punjab had earned Rs 10,000 crore because of the airport. Mittal, earlier over the issue of CAT IIIB at the airport, had said that Airport Authority of India is the only one ready to contribute for the purpose, but Punjab does not want to spend even a penny.
Senior Advocate Puneet Bali also earlier had submitted that Punjab and Haryana are important stakeholders in the airport and should be asked to contribute, while requesting the court to call the advocate generals of the two states.
In response to the court question, Mittal responded that Punjab has developed the surrounding areas and earned through conversion charges and other commercial activities. He added that they have seen wherever such airports are made, there is development in the surrounding areas stretching to 40-50 km. Bali also submitted that Punjab has billboards spread across Mohali in the name of the airport.
“We will ask Punjab to pay Rs 5,000 crore (for the airport),” observed the court. However, it did not pass any orders on Thursday regarding the issue.
AG appears, but fails to convince court
Nanda soon appeared in the court and was told that now onwards he will have to remain present in the court on each hearing of the case, along with the chief secretary. “This affidavit is an insult to us,” the court said, adding that it is “dismayed” as no tangible progress has been made towards the completion of tasks for which assurances have been given.
“State of Punjab is the biggest hurdle. We do not need assistance. We need cooperation,” observed the court. “Today we have lost everything”.
Though it wanted to adjourn the case to Friday, the court, after hearing Nanda, adjourned the hearing till Monday.