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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Court order on encroachments goes for a toss in state capital

Neha Pant, Hindustan Times  Dehradun, June 14, 2014
First Published: 15:17 IST(14/6/2014) | Last Updated: 15:21 IST(14/6/2014)

Despite the Uttarakhand high court's orders against roadside encroachments, and the appointment of a court commissioner to tackle the elevating problem, the city's footpaths continue to suffocate with heavy encroachments.

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While there is no relief for the harried pedestrians, the role of concerned departments that were responsible for curbing the menace has also come under the scanner.

"Shopkeepers have placed all kinds of materials like boards and racks on the footpaths and we are left with no other option than to walk on the roads. What's the use of making footpaths if we cannot use them?" Priyanka Negi, an engineering student, who was visiting the bustling Paltan Bazaar, told the Hindustan Times.
 
The case

A Doon resident Manmohan Lakhera had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the High Court (HC) at Nainital, petitioning it to act on rampant encroachments on city footpaths.

As a result, the HC in June 2013 ordered local authorities, including the Dehradun district administration, the Dehradun Municipal Corporation (DMC) and Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) among others, to remove the encroachments.

Since then, the authorities have held more than half a dozen anti-encroachment drives in the past one year.

However, in the absence of effective follow-up drives, most encroachers returned to the spot each time a drive ended.

Presently, footpaths and roadsides at several locations including Paltan Bazaar, Dhamawala and Darshanlal Chowk, Gandhi Road among others have inroads at many points.

Hit by elections

In the run up to Lok Sabha elections, the anti-encroachment campaign in Dehradun suffered as the local government machinery remained busy with electoral duties.

Even the inspections planned by the court commissioner, Rajeev Sharma, got hit due to the unavailability of officials and shortage of staff prior to the polls.

After the completion of general elections, the model code of conduct for Uttarakhand's Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) polls was announced on May 27, which has once again held up the process.

Departmental laxity

During Sharma's recent inspections, officials of the concerned departments were at complete loss of words and could not offer concrete explanation as to how did an encroachment of such a big magnitude come up right under their noses.

When contacted, Dehradun city mayor Vinod Chamoli said that shortage of staff within civic bodies, lack of support from other departments and unavailability of police force have marred the DMC's anti-encroachment efforts.

Executive engineer of public works department (PWD) US Rawat claimed that the PWD has identified the points where its footpaths have been encroached.

"Right now, the district administration is engaged in election-related duties, but a drive to remove encroachments will soon be held with them," Rawat said.

effort

Earlier this year, the Uttarakhand HC appointed Dehradun Bar Association president Rajeev Sharma as the court commissioner to study and submit a report on the current status of footpath encroachments in the city.

The study found heavy encroachments in several areas, with the worst hit being Paltan Bazaar, where at many points barely eight feet of space remains for the public to walk despite the provision of a 26-feet wide road.
 
As Sharma could not get adequate support for conducting further inspection due to the officials' engagement in back-to-back preparations for Lok Sabha and panchayat polls, he held a host of "secret inspections" to know the ground reality.

"Over the past few days, I have made several clandestine visits to local markets to know the exact extent of roadside encroachment," he told HT.

Sharma added that he wants to present the true picture behind the encroachments to the High Court and hence will also bring the officials' position to the fore in his report.

"I also collected photographic evidence of the same. I will be asking upfront questions to the concerned officials," he conclude.


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