Srinagar: The J&K high court has appointed a retired sessions’ judge and a former senior superintendent of police as vigilance commissioners to keep a check on illegal constructions within and around prohibited areas of Dal Lake.
The commissioners—Mohammad Shafi Khan, who retired last year as principal sessions judge Srinagar and Abdul Hamid Bhat, former SSP and director security Kashmir University—have been directed by the court comprising Chief Justice N Paul Vasathakumar and Justice Hasnain Massodi to inspect the lake every day and report to it illegal constructions, if any, every week through court’s registrar judicial “so that action warranted is taken without any delay.”
The report, the court said, shall give necessary details like identity of the violator, nature of the construction and its dimensions, etc.
“The commissioners shall also report violation of any of the directions dated 19 July 2002 (banning constructions), and other directions such as ban on transportation of building material, earth filling and release of untreated effluents by any commercial establishment into Dal Lake,” the court said.
The registrar judicial, the court said, shall place the report before the bench “having due regard to the gravity of the violation reported and urgency involved.”
To enable the court commissioners function properly, the court directed the vice chairman Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) to provide the commissioners reasonable office space within LAWDA complex and services of at least one steno-typist and orderly besides transport facilities like Motor Boat, etc., “so that they are in a position to discharge their duties without any difficulty or impediment.”
“Each commissioners shall he paid an amount of Rs 30,000 per month as honorarium by VC LAWDA,” the court added.
The direction by the court followed its observations that prevention of construction activity in Dal Lake and within 200 meters from the edge of Foreshore Road and other adjoining prohibited areas cannot be left exclusively to officers and the officials of LAWDA.
“The authorities ought to have swung into action on their own and submitted the action taken report (against violators). However, due to lack of commitment on part of the concerned officers, such matters are left to be brought to the court by general public. A person espousing pubic cause apprehends a retaliatory action from the violator,” the court observed while hearing a Public Interest Litigation, filed by Syed Tahir Iqbal, then a law student, in July 2002, to save the lake.
“World famous Dal Lake, spreading over an area of 50 Sq Kilometers half a century back, has shrunk to 13.5 Sq kilometers. We have thus lost a little less than 3/4th of the Lake during last few decades. Significant decrease in (its) area is mainly attributable to illegal constructions and encroachments because of such construction. A large area of Lake has been eaten up by ever expanding neighbourhoods and commercial buildings like hotels, guest houses and restaurants. Lackadaisical approach on part of law enforcing agencies has emboldened land mafia, tress-passers and encroachers to undertake earth fling of peripheries of Lake resulting in further decrease in its area,” the bench observed and recalled that a division bench of the court had issued slew of directions on 19 July 2002 in this backdrop.
Among others, the court had ordered a ban on all types of constructions within 200 meters from the centre of the foreshore road.
“Nobody will be permitted to erect the building within the restricted or greenbelt area. It will be duty of the authorities to point out to the Tribunal exercising jurisdiction about the restriction imposed by law within the object and in view of the Supreme Court judgment the water bodies and greenbelts are required to be maintained as it is. If any permission is granted within the prohibited or restricted area that would be contrary to the decision of the Apex Court and principles of public trust,” the court had said.
Later, the court banned transportation of building material in the area except with the permission of the concerned authorities.
“The directions were, mostly observed in breach. The orders passed from time to time did not evoke desired response from the authorities and in particular, the officers of LAWDA. The court was, therefore, left with no option but to take Dal Lake in its own control and declare it Custodia Legis on 23 March 2009.”
Consequentially, everyone associated with the management, preservation and development of lake are directly answerable to the court.