HC wants Gulmarg free from occupation

Srinagar: The J&K High Court has directed Chief Secretary of the state to inform it within a month about action taken on the recommendations of a panel headed by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir regarding unauthorized occupation of land at famous tourist resort of Gulmarg.
The panel, formed on April 23 last year, had identified a number of lessees who as on date possess land more than initially allotted in their favour. The panel which has already submitted its report to the Chief Secretary has also identified the institutions, like Indian Army, who are in possession of land without any formal allotment order.
The Army, as per the panel report, occupies 305 acres, 5 kanals and 13 marlas of land against the ‘allotted’ 130 acres.
“A good number of lessees are in possession of land more than what was initially allotted in their favour and therefore are to be evicted from the excess land in their possession,” a division bench of the High Court comprising Justices Hasnain Massodi and Ali Mohammad Magrey said while hearing a Public Interest Litigation seeking to safeguard ecologically fragile environs of Gulmarg and its adjoining areas.
“The Committee has similarly identified persons/institutions who are in unauthorised possession of land. These persons, except (those) whose possession is protected under any order, are also to be evicted from the land in their unauthorised possession,” the bench said, directing Chief Secretary to inform the court about action taken on the recommendations made by the Committee by or before next date of hearing on March 10.
Earlier this month, government formed a panel headed by Chief Secretary to workout modalities for transfer of 176 acres land which is “under the unauthorized occupation of Army at Gulmarg, in lieu of the land to be exchanged for Tattoo Ground, Batamaloo (here).”
The court also directed CEO Gulmarg Development Authority, who is also Estates Officer under J&K Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act 1988, to issue show cause notices against lessees whose particulars were forwarded to him by Deputy Commissioner Baramulla for having more than allotted land in their possession.
The officer had issued show cause notices to 31 lessees but the matter has not seen any progress because of non-availability of revenue staff with him. As observed by the court, the lessees who were served with notice in their response have asked for proper demarcation of the area in their possession.
“This has made it necessary for the Estates Officer to have services of a revenue officer available to him so that he can embark on the exercise to demarcate the area in possession of such lessees, evict them in accordance with law from any area found in their possession over and above area initially allotted in their possession,” the court said.
It directed Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, to attach a Naib Tehsildar, a Girdawar and a Patwari, with GDA for six months from April to assist the Estates Officer in demarcation operations and pass and implement eviction orders. “We expect Estates Officer (CEO, GDA) to complete whole exercise—demarcation and eviction—by June 30, 2014,” the court said.
The court also expressed its displeasure at Deputy Commissioner Baramulla for transmitting particulars of persons in unauthorised possession of land at Gulmarg in ‘instalments’.
“The Committee has given full particulars of unauthorised occupants in its report. The particulars of all the unauthorised occupants should have been transmitted in one go,” the bench said, asking the Deputy Commissioner to provide information regarding all other lessees over and above 31 already brought to the notice of Estates Officer.
Meanwhile, the court also directed Pollution Control Board to file status report by or before March 10 indicating whether STPs installed by hoteliers are operational as well as details of their individual capacity to handle waste and runoff.
In Pahalgam, five out of 25 hotels in Category ‘A’ (have 20 or more rooms) have installed STPs along with all hotels in Gulmarg, as per PCB report.
In Srinagar, PCB report reveals, 11 hotels (Category ‘A’) have installed STPs or connected their hotels to common STPs. The hotels having STPs have been allowed to function by the PCB.
Similarly, as regards Hotels in Category ‘B’—having less than 19 rooms—eight at Gulmarg, 27 at Pahalgam and 46 at Srinagar, have been de-sealed and allowed to undertake commercial operations, the PCB said.
In another direction, the court also asked Chief Town Planner to place Master Plan for Gulmarg before competent authority within four weeks.
The direction followed submission by Advocate General MI Qadri that Chief Conservator of Forests has forwarded report regarding geo-referenced Forest boundaries to the Chief Town Planner, thereby clearing decks for preparation of Master Plan for Gulmarg and other areas.
Advocate Aijaz Chesti appeared before the bench on behalf of the petitioner Mohammad Rafiq Zargar.