Tata’s Housing project in Chandigarh stalled for being ‘too close’ to Sukhna Lake & Widlife Sanctuary

Supreme Court: In the matter concerning the housing project, on the ground that the area in question falls within the catchment area of Sukhna Lake and is 123 meters away from the boundary of Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, the 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai, JJ has held that such projects cannot be permitted to come up within such a short distance from the wildlife sanctuary.

Stating that the entire exercise smacks of arbitrariness on the part of Government including functionaries, the bench said that the Court has to perform its duty in such a scenario when the authorities have failed to protect the wildlife sanctuary eco­sensitive zone. It said,

“The entire exercise of obtaining clearance relating to the project is quashed.  We regret that such a scenario has emerged in the matter and that it involved a large number of MLAs of Punjab Legislative Assembly.”

The Tata HDCL proposed to develop a project, namely, “CAMELOT” in the revenue estate of village­Kansal, Tehsil ­Kharar, District­ Mohali, State of Punjab. The total project area is 52.66 acres. It was argued that the environment clearance dated 17.09.2013 suffered from legal malafides, and it amounted to colourable exercise of power since about 95 MLAs of the State of Punjab are the beneficiaries of the proposed project.

The Court took note of the fact that the proposal, which was sent by the Government of Punjab to the MoEF, to keep the Buffer Zone within 100 meters from Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, had not been accepted and the direction was issued to resubmit the proposal for at least 1 km Buffer Zone has not been forwarded by State of Punjab. It said,

“It was incumbent upon the State of Punjab to send a proposal to the MoEF, as required but it appears that it has not chosen to do so for a reason precious project concerning the MLAs is involved, and MoEF has not accepted its proposal for keeping Buffer Zone to 100 meters.”

ON the environmental aspect, the Court said that the most potent threat faced by the earth and human civilization as a whole which is confronted with, today, is environmental degradation and wildlife degeneration. The need to protect flora and fauna which constitutes a major portion of our ecosystem is immediate. Development and urbanization coming at the cost of adversely affecting our natural surroundings will in turn impact and be the cause of human devastation as was seen in the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand and in 2018 in Kerala.

The Court, hence, held that considering the distance of 123 meters from the Northern side and 183 meters from the Eastern side of the project in question from wildlife sanctuary, no such project can be allowed to come up in the area in question. The State of Punjab was required to act on the basis of Doctrine of Public Trust. It has failed to do so.

“The origination of the project itself indicates that State of Punjab was not acting in furtherance of Doctrine of Public Trust as 95 MLAs were to be the recipients of the flats. It is clear why Government has not been able to protect the eco­sensitive zone around a Wildlife and has permitted setting up of high­rise buildings up to 92 meters in the area in question, which is not at all permissible.”

[Tata Housing Development Company Ltd. v. Aalok Jagga, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1419, decided on 05.11.2019]

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