The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has directed the state government to deduct Re 1 per day from the salaries of Chief Secretary, Principal Secretaries of Urban Development, Revenue and Forest Department, Commissioner of Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) and Chairman of Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT)for not submitting the action plan for demolition of illegal religious structures as mandated by the Supreme Court.
The bench comprising Justices Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Zaka Haq issued the order on Thursday on a PIL filed by citizens Manohar Khorgade and Gajanan Zade. The PIL is concerning illegally constructed religious structures causing hindrance to public order.
The Supreme Court had in 2013 directed all states to remove such structures and had asked respective High courts the progress of the plan. Last month, the bench had rapped the civic authorities for not following the high court directive and sought affidavits from them as well as from Chief Secretary (CS) of the State on the matter. CS D K Jain had on June 19 submitted the affidavit listing the structures in the city that were to be removed as per the SC directive. About 10 days ago, the civic authorities had started demolishing some of the structures and removed 82 of them but on Monday, Union Surface Transport Minister and Nagpur MP Nitin Gadkari wrote to the two civic chiefs to first assess which of the structures were causing hindrance to public and not remove those which were on public land and causing no hindrance before going ahead with the drive.
He had also told them to try to regularise the non-intrusive structures. He had stated that being the city MP, it was his responsibility to see to it that law and order situation was not affected by the demolition drive. Gadkari’s letter had followed some BJP MLAs and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders meeting him to express their discontent.
Though Gadkari’s letter did not come up for discussion in Thursday’s hearing, six trustees of some temples filed intervention applications in the matter on Thursday. The bench did not take any cognizance and put them in pending. Petitioners’ lawyer Firdaus Mirza told the court that the government had failed to file a definitive action plan where attempts should have been made to first demolish structures on road and footpath, followed by those on public utility lands in residential localities. “The authorities started demolition of structures on public land in residential localities first, thereby deliberately causing discontent among the public,” Mirza said.
The HC had fixed the deadlines of December 31, 2016, and September 17, 2017, for the demolition of undisputed encroachments and those with objections filed against them and the ones that can be shifted elsewhere respectively. The bench also observed that it was refraining from taking cognisance of the matter in terms of court’s contempt. “We are supposed to monitor the implementation of the SC order and can’t entertain any plea against it. The aggrieved are free to move the SC for redressal,” the bench said.