HC takes custody of river Jhelum; stays construction of bridge parallel to Abdullah Bridge
SRINAGAR: The J&K High Court has ordered government to construct skewed and not the footbridge on river Jhelum opposite Presentation Convent School at Rajbagh here. It also stayed construction of a new bridge parallel to the Abdullah Bridge in the area.
Hearing a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation, a division bench of Justices Ali Mohammad Magrey and B S Walia also declared river Jhelum as ‘Custodial legis (court property)’ to prevent the water body, the lifeline of Kashmir, from damage or encroachments.
In so for as Skewed bridge is concerned, the court directed the authorities to proceed ahead with the construction as per original plan of 1981 by completing it and throwing it open for the traffic. “Should the (authorities authorities) require any clarification in this regard, they shall be free to seek it from the court on the next date,” the court said and placed its “dissatisfaction, disapproval and disappointment” on the functioning of the concerned executing agency for sitting over on the “small construction for years.”
“We would wish to forewarn that this sloppy and dithering working of the authorities and officers of the department concerned may roll some heads in coming times,” the court said.
On 24 October 2013, the high court dismissed a PIL filed by advocate Aftab Hilali Shah and others in which claim was made that the skewed bridge was contrary to public interest and would adversely affect the environment and the security of the children studying in the school.
Interestingly, the government in an affidavit had stated that the project was approved by it on 13.10.1981 for ‘Improvement to Road Communication System in Srinagar City’. Besides the skewed bridge, the project envisaged construction of new roads and improvement, up-gradation and widening of some existing roads.
“In the Master Plan 1971-91 for the city, there was vision for the North-South corridor connecting the southern parts of the city with the core and northern areas and decision was taken by the Government to construct a 2-Lane Abdullah Bridge connecting TRC with Rajbagh. The bridge has only a two lane approach on the Rajbagh side”.
Meanwhile, the court while declaring the River Jhelum as its property, has sought opinion “in writing” from the Government in this regard by next date of hearing in the PIL on May 8.
The court observed that the river Jhelum and its banks were cleared of encroachments and beautified after its series of orders between 2005 and 2007.
“Huge developmental works were undertaken on both the banks and bunds of the Jhelum at huge cost but all those efforts as it appears now have been reduced to shambles by the proposed constructions,” the court said.
While staying the construction of new bridge parallel to the Abdullah Bridge, the court made it clear that to the executing agency that no construction shall be carried out by it till further orders.
“It hardly needs to be mentioned here that the viewpoint of the state counsel would be that of the state represented by the Chief Secretary and so it shall have to be filed on affidavit,” the court said.