Utt HC | “Mindless pursuits of celebrations at exotic locations shouldn’t deteriorate environment” — State to ensure

Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench of Ramesh Ranganathan, CJ and Alok Kumar Verma, J. entertained a PIL through which the petitioner claimed that Auli, where a grand marriage of the respondents was scheduled to be held, was the subject matter of the judgment of the Division Bench of the Court in Aali-Bedini Bagzi Bugyal Sanrakshan Samiti v. State of Uttarakhand (order in WPPIL No. 123 of 2014 dated 21-08-2018); and the land, where the marriage was proposed to be celebrated and on which a large number of tents had already been erected, was a part of meadow-land.

Arvind Vashisth, counsel for the event Organizer-respondent, submitted that the subject lands do not form part of the meadows; ‘Aali’ village, which was situated in Tharali sub-division of Chamoli district. He further submitted that the petitioner had some misunderstanding as “Auli”, where the marriage celebrations were to be held was situated in Joshimath sub-division of Chamoli district; the subject lands were not meadows. Hence the order of the earlier Division Bench was not to be applied upon the particular land where the marriage was to be held.

The Division Bench in its earlier order had directed to the State to remove all the permanent structures from alpine meadows and the nearby places. The order also consisted of constituting Eco Development Committee within such zones. The relevant instructions of the order were as follows:

  1. The State Government is directed to restrict the number of tourists (not more than 200) visiting the alpine meadows/ sub alpine meadows/ Bugyals.
  2. No person including the State Public Undertakings/ Private Entrepreneurs shall construct any permanent structure on the alpine meadows throughout the State of Uttarakhand.
  3. The overnight stay in the Alpine meadows is banned.

The Court noticed that the parties took completely opposite contentions related to the nature of terrain hence the court directed the State for a survey of the said land where the marriage was to be held and whether such land is covered by the judgment of 2018 passed by the Division Bench. The Court further held and showed its concern that “Even if, as is contended by Arvind Vashisth, learned counsel of the Organizers, the subject lands were not meadow-lands, and not covered by the aforesaid judgment of the Division Bench, the State Government and its instrumentalities must ensure that these mindless pursuits of holding large scale marriage celebrations at exotic locations in such a large scale, and at places where such mega-events have never been conducted earlier, do not result in irreparable environmental degradation of the said area.”

The Court was of the view that it was yet to be decided that whether such authorities were correct in granting permission for the event or not but as the event was scheduled to be held on the same day of the instant PIL the adverse order may cause irreparable loss to the respondents and ultimately the marriage had to be called off in such circumstances. Hence, by itself, it was not justified to permit the private respondents to damage the sensitive ecology of the upper Himalayas, where Auli is situated, the least that must be done is to minimize any adverse effect which this large-scale event may have on the fragile ecosystem at Auli.

The Court ordered, the private respondents not to construct any helipad or similar infrastructure, the Organizers were directed to inform the Court regarding use of pollution causing pieces of equipment and the number of guest who would be present and a sum of Rs 5 crores was directed to be deposited by the NRI parties to the wedding as Court considered it proper for adjudication and was a view that it may not be possible for the Court later to recover the costs required to be incurred for restoration of the area. It had further requested the Member Secretary of the Uttarakhand State Pollution Control Board to be presented or to depute an Expert to be presented, in Court to assist the Court in stipulating the measures required to minimize the environmental damage which may be caused to Auli as a result of this mega-event.[Rakshit Joshi v. State of Uttrakhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 508, decided on 17-06-2019]

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