Sukhna Lake is a living entity with rights: HC

Court orders demolition of buildings in catchment area in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana; wants lake to be declared wetland within 3 months
The court observed that Sukhna Lake is required to be declared as a legal entity for its survival, preservation and conservation.(HT FILE)
The court observed that Sukhna Lake is required to be declared as a legal entity for its survival, preservation and conservation.(HT FILE)
Published on Mar 03, 2020 12:32 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By, Chandigarh

The Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday declared Sukhna Lake a “living entity” or “legal person” with rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. It also declared all citizens of Chandigarh as loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to save the lake from extinction.

The order was passed by the high court (HC) bench of justices Rajiv Sharma and HS Sidhu in a 2009 suo motu petition initiated amid depleting water level in the lake.

The court observed that Sukhna Lake is required to be declared as a legal entity for its survival, preservation and conservation. The Chandigarh administration has been directed to declare it a wetland within a period of three months.

Earlier in 2018, a bench presided over by justice Sharma had accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals in Haryana. In Uttarakhand high court, justice Sharma was part of a bench in 2017, which declared the Ganga and Yamuna as living entities, a verdict that was later stayed by the Supreme Court.

‘RELOCATE AFFECTED OWNERS, PAY 25L RELIEF’

The HC also ordered that all structures in Sukhna’s catchment area (which was demarcated by the Survey of India in 2004) should be demolished, and affected owners whose building plans have been approved should be relocated in the vicinity of Chandigarh and they should be compensated with 25 lakh each.

According to lawyers, the affected areas would include parts of Nayagaon and Kansal in Mohali, portions of Kaimbwala in Chandigarh and portions of Saketri village and Sector 1, Mansa Devi Complex, in Panchkula.

The court also declared Nayagaon Master Plan 2021 notified in 2009 and the development plan for Shri Mata Mansa Devi Urban Complex illegal to the extent for areas demarcated under catchment area as per the 2004 survey report.

The bench observed that state functionaries could not be oblivious of large-scale illegal construction activities going on in the catchment area and its surroundings.

“The act of Haryana of preparing Master Plan 2021 for Mansa Devi Complex, and to extend it to the areas which are covered by the Survey of India was against the public interest. How could the Punjab notify Nayagaon Master Plan 2021 knowing fully well that the area covered in the Master Plan impinged upon the catchment area?” the court questioned.

‘STATES HAVE CAUSED PERMANENT DAMAGE’

It further added that Punjab, Haryana and UT kept on assuring court that no unauthorised construction would be undertaken, but in reality it was going on unabated, leading to a grim situation. “The acts of States of Punjab, Haryana have caused permanent damage to the catchment area of Sukhna Lake. It was expected from the State agencies to foresee that the permanent structures in a catchment area would impede the flow of water in Sukhna Lake,” it said.

The court also directed Chandigarh to ensure that the average capacity of the lake is increased by at least about 100-150 hectare by one-time large scale desilting. Both the states and UT have also been told to lower the storage capacity of the check dams to ensure regular flow of water into the lake. Chandigarh will have to ensure that there is no seepage losses. They have also directed that no wastewater/sewage flows into the water body. The aquatic weeds are ordered to be removed within a period of six months, the bench said.

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