HC directs for CBI probe into illegal constructions at Patnitop

Jammu: Taking note of illegal constructions at the famous hill resort of Patnitop, Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed the CBI to conduct an in depth inquiry into the matter and submit a preliminary status report within eight weeks. A division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajesh Bindal issued the order on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Harcharan Singh, owner of Krystal Hotel and Restaurant at Patnitop seeking demolition of the illegal or unauthorized buildings raised in green buffer areas of the hill resort, 110 kms from here.
“It is a fit case for enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation which is required to go into all aspects of the matter, including the manner in which the building permissions and licences have been granted within the jurisdiction of the Patnitop Development Authority,” the division bench said in its order on Tuesday.
It said the CBI was required to examine the aspect of encroachment on forest land and other public land, illegal change of use and misuse of the land in violation of the permitted user, raising of illegal constructions, failure of the authorities to take action, and fix the responsibility of the persons who were at the helm of affairs.
“We, therefore, direct that this order be placed before the Director, CBI, who shall appoint a senior officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police to conduct an in depth enquiry into the misuse of power and authority for any reason and violations of law.
“On conclusion of the enquiry, the CBI shall register case(s) in accordance with law against person(s) found culpable, proceed with the investigation as well as prosecution,” the order reads.
Given the environmentally sensitive nature of the area and the extent of illegalities, the order said the CBI is required to conduct an expeditious enquiry into the matter.
“Let a preliminary status report be filed by the CBI before the court within eight weeks from today (December 31, 2019),” the division bench said directing the Patnitop Development Authority, Tourism Department of the Union Territory of J&K, all hotels, lodges and guest houses in the Patnitop area to ensure full cooperation to the CBI in the matter.
It said the PIL has brought to the fore, matters of grave public interest.
“It has been pointed out that a lot of trees have been removed in order to effect the encroachments, and raise illegal and unauthorized constructions also resulting in degradation of the environment in the area under the jurisdiction of Patnitop Development Authority (PDA).
“It cannot be denied that such extensive and illegal commercialization in the eco-sensitive area have caused irreparable damage to the ecology of the Patnitop, a very popular hill resort in the Jammu province. There can also be no dispute at all that forest area and agricultural area has to be maintained and the interest of the forest and agriculture cannot be compromised at all levels,” the division bench said.
It directed the Chief Executive Officer, PDA, Pran Singh, to furnish a list of all the chief executive officers and the Khilafwarzi officers, who remained posted in Patnitop for the last 25 years to the present, to the CBI. “The CBI may seek further information, if need be”.
The division bench also directed the Secretary, Department of Tourism, to furnish the date-wise list of licences, which have been issued to different persons in the Patnitop Development Area for running guest houses, hotels and lodges to the Director, CBI.
“Details of the officers who granted the licences shall be furnished,” it said.
The Secretary, Department of Tourism, UT of J&K shall also provide the list of officers responsible for ensuring that the licences were not violated for last 25 years for the time being, the division bench said. PTI

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