The Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed its March 2 order, wherein a fine of Rs 100 crore each was imposed on the Punjab and Haryana governments as “exemplary/ punitive/ special damages” for “allowing with impunity” construction in the catchment area of Sukhna Lake in their jurisdiction. It had also declared constructions in the catchment area “as delineated in the map prepared by the Survey of India on September 21, 2004” as illegal, ordering their demolition within three months.
The stay order was pronounced by the division bench of Justices Jaswant Singh and HS Sidhu, who were hearing the review application challenging the HC order. A detailed copy of the order is yet to be released by the court. The matter is scheduled for hearing on March 18, 2021.
The review applications in the matter was filed before the HC by the Kansal Enclave Residents Welfare Association, Kansal Residents Protection of Rights and Welfare Association, residents of Kansal village and the state of Punjab.
During the hearing, senior advocate Gurminder Singh and advocate Gurnoor S Sandhu, counsel for Kansal Residents Protection of Rights and Welfare Association, contended that the Survey of India Map of 2004, which has been relied upon to delineate the catchment area, is not an accurate map because the same has not been made in consultation with experts such as geologists and hydrologists. Moreover, they said, the map is made on a small scale of 1:25000 and to delineate the catchment area properly, a map on a larger scale of 1:5000 is required.
The counsels further submitted that no law prohibits construction in the catchment area, and as per interim orders passed by the court in the present writ petition, construction was prohibited in agricultural and forest parts of the catchment area and accordingly, no construction has taken place therein.
The high court bench, after hearing the contentions, issued a notice of motion in all the review applications and ordered that directions passed by the HC in the order dated March 2, would be kept in abeyance till the next date of hearing, subject to the states of Punjab and Haryana giving assurance that no further construction is undertaken in the catchment area.
The HC also stated that if any construction is found in the catchment area, the stay so granted would be vacated. It further said that not even renovation work should be undertaken in the existing constructed structures without the prior permission of the HC.
Sukhna Lake’s catchment area falls both in Punjab and Haryana, but the rain-fed lake itself is located within Chandigarh. The lake was constructed in 1958 and is spread over 3 sq km. An area of 2-2.75 km around the lake has been declared as an eco-sensitive zone by the Chandigarh Administration. All activities in this area fall under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act. In 2009, the High Court had taken suo motu note of the issues in the sustenance of the lake. In March 2011, the High Court banned construction on land falling within the lake’s catchment area.
A Survey of India map, dated September 21, 2004, was used to identify and demarcate the catchment area.
In 2013, the Punjab government had asked the central government to reduce the eco-sensitive area to 100 metres on its side, but the request was rejected. In 2018, a Court Commissioner report before the court had said that constructions have continued in the catchment area despite the HC ban.
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