Aravallis: Demolition of illegal structures hits legal hurdle

The Supreme Court’s three-month-old direction to remove all unauthorised structures from Aravalli forest land has hit a legal hurdle, with the Haryana government informing the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the issue required judicial determination to ascertain if these structures have come up on forest land
After the drive at Khori Gaon village, which came up on Aravalli land in Faridabad, demolition of only nine of 129 illegal structures could take place, the MCF told the Supreme Court. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
After the drive at Khori Gaon village, which came up on Aravalli land in Faridabad, demolition of only nine of 129 illegal structures could take place, the MCF told the Supreme Court. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
Published on Oct 05, 2021 11:26 PM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi

The Supreme Court’s three-month-old direction to remove all unauthorised structures from Aravalli forest land has hit a legal hurdle, with the Haryana government informing the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the issue required judicial determination to ascertain if these structures have come up on forest land.

The Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF), in a status report filed in compliance with the court’s orders, stated that besides the demolition of Khori Gaon situated on MCF land in Lakkarpur village, the authority has been able to demolish just nine of 129 unauthorised structures.

The MCF, represented in court by senior advocate Arun Bhardwaj, informed a bench of justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari that a group of owners, who were served show-cause notices for demolition by the forest department, filed representations before the state government claiming that their plots were not covered under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) notification of 1900, which demarcated forest land.

A second group of owners claimed that in 2019, the Haryana assembly passed an amendment to the PLPA, exempting certain lands from the ambit of the PLPA, thus, allowing them to continue their operations. However, this exemption was stayed by the Supreme Court in March 2019 and the matter is pending with the top court since.

A third group of affected owners have obtained orders from the Supreme Court, in the MC Mehta batch of cases, for continuing their activities.

Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state forest department, said, “We have decided on the representations received from the owners of unauthorised structures. We have held that they fall under forest land. But on the 2019 amendment, there is an injunction by this court, due to which it is not implemented. This amendment was necessary as after the Kant Enclave in Faridabad was ordered to be demolished in 2019 by Supreme Court; several government buildings, hospitals and state offices also faced demolition.”

The bench agreed to sort out the issue and posted the matter for hearing on Friday. It asked the state to file an affidavit explaining the factual basis on which the area in question came to be notified as a forest area.

Most of the properties facing demolition are farmhouses and banquet halls, while a few schools, factories, ashrams, places of worship and hotels are also included, according to the MCF status report. The properties are spread across villages of Ankhir, Mewla Maharajpur, Manger, Pali, Badkhal, Lakkarpur and Anangpur.

The MCF was directed by the court on July 23 this year to clear all unauthorised structures on Aravalli forest land.

The July 23 order of the court stated, “Needless to observe that the direction to remove all unauthorised structures standing on forest land applies to all unauthorised structures without any exception….after due verification of the fact whether it is unauthorised and is constructed on the forest land as such. If the structure is covered in the category of unauthorised structure on forest land, the same shall be removed within the same time.”

Further on September 20, the Court directed MCF to file a chart showing demolitions carried out on forest land with justification for non-demolition.

Lawyers representing affected property owners said that the area was declared forest under the Indian Forests Act of 1927, while SG Mehta claimed that the notification declaring forest was covered under the PLPA.

The MCF status report further indicated to the court that as and when the forest department passes an order for demolition, requisite assistance shall be provided by the corporation in carrying out the same. Only those structures, over which no objections could be raised, were demolished. The corporation demanded eight weeks to carry out the court order to clear unauthorised structures from Aravalli forest land.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021