On Tuesday, the Supreme Court recognised 425 acres of land on which Kant Enclave stands as forest area, and ordered the demolition of all structures constructed there after 1992 — a year that has proven to be seminal for R Kant & Co. It was on March 27, 1992, that the builder entered into an agreement with the State of Haryana, as per which it could set up a ‘Film Studio’ and ‘Allied Complex’ in Anangpur village, where Kant Enclave eventually came up. Less than five months later, on August 18, 1992, the notification that has proven to be the company’s undoing was issued, prohibiting “clearing or breaking up of the land not ordinarily under cultivation”.
The notification had been issued after a committee constituted by the State of Haryana — to look into development of the area that fell between and around Badkal Lake and Surajkund, including Kant Enclave — recommended the land be brought under provisions of the Punjab Land Preservation Act.
In the time between the agreement and the Supreme Court order, however, red flags had been raised regarding development of the locality and its ecological impact on multiple occasions, by multiple parties. In addition, orders passed in the context of other cases, which should have had a bearing on plans for Kant Enclave, were repeatedly ignored. Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment indicates the top court has considered these facts as well.
Among the first to raise questions was the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in 1992, who sent a communication to the Commissioner & Secretary of the Forest Department at the time to clarify whether permission could be granted to construct the Film Studio and Allied Complex, considering permission of the Centre — necessary for construction on the land after the issuance of the 1992 notification — had not been acquired. The response he received simply indicated he could take action as per the norms. Despite this, on May 15, 1996, the Conservator of Forests granted permission to the company to proceed with the work.
The other official who raised questions regarding the matter was the Financial Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of the Haryana Revenue Department in 1999, who questioned authenticity of ownership of the land, whether its use was authorised, and whether the Town and Country Planning Department had permitted the development of a residential colony on land that had been obtained to set up a Film Studio and Allied Complex.
The Director of the Town and Country Planning Department had responded to the queries a fortnight later, clarifying that R Kant & Co had authorised possession of the land, were using it in accordance with the approved layout plan, and provision of residential plots and group housing had been added in a revised approved layout plan of Kant Enclave.
“It will be noticed that the Director, Town & Country Planning Department did not make any reference to the notification dated August 18, 1992 issued under provisions of the PLP Act. This sequence of events clearly indicates that the Town & Country Planning Department was very much in favour of the applicant colonising its land and making constructions therein on the basis of select administrative orders,” states Tuesday’s judgement.
“The understanding of the Town & Country Planning Department seems to be that issues of environmental degradation, pollution and groundwater were not its concern. To say the least, the Town & Country Planning Department was myopic and brazen in pushing its agenda — certainly vis-a-vis the applicant versus the environment and in disregard of a statutory notification,” it adds.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court Judgment, in addition, has thrown light on the fact that this communication overlooked a December 12, 1996 order of the Court, which directed that prior approval of the Centre was necessary for any non-forest activity within a ‘forest’ and that ongoing activity without this should be stopped immediately.
Apart from official communications and interventions, an order issued by the Supreme Court in the M C Mehta vs Union of India case in 1996, prohibiting construction activity of any type within a 5 km radius of Badkal Lake and Surajkund, which included Kant Enclave, also appeared as an obstruction to the project. This order was further clarified by another issued on October 11, 1996, stating that construction would not be permitted within the green belt around the 2 lakes, that is 1 km radius, with this ban extending on another kilometre outside the green belt.
The latter direction, the order clarified, did not apply to plots sold or allotted prior to the issuance of the first order, on May 10, 1996, and that unallotted plots could be sold with the approval of the authority concerned. Development plans within 5 km of the lakes, the order further clarified, however, would require approval of the Central Pollution Control Board and Haryana Pollution Control Board.
R Kant & Co had filed a review petition against the latter order, regarding which the court ruled that in the context of private lands, including that of the company, the State of Haryana could review the position so that single storey “hutments” could be built.
In the context of the order, Supreme Court, in its judgment on Tuesday, stated, “It seems to us that these orders passed by this Court were not blanket orders which could permit the applicants to ignore the notification dated August 18, 1992. The requirement, in terms of the orders passed by this Court, continued to be in adherence to the laws, rules and regulations which would necessarily include the notification issued under the provisions of the PLP Act.”
Environmentalists working in the Aravallis have also reiterated this point, stating that the orders passed by courts or activities permitted subsequent to the 1992 notification were meant to be executed within the ambit of the same, not despite it. “Aravallis act as a green infrastructure that sustains cities. This judgement reconfirms that Aravallis are forest and should not be built upon,” said environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal.