Wednesday, April 25, 2012

News Article: Govt aiding illegal encroachments in water bodies - HC

Abhinav Sharma, TNN Apr 24, 2012, 01.16AM IST

Tags: water bodies|ILLEGAL ENCROACHMENTS| HC|Gov

JAIPUR: The Rajasthan High Court on Monday came down heavily on the state government over illegal allotments and encroachments in the catchment area of water bodies in the state, saying the government was encouraging such illegality with active aide of its officials. The harsh criticism came soon after the government moved an application demanding that the PIL related to encroachments of water bodies shall be heard by a division bench when the court was about to pronouncement its judgment after several months of hearing.

"There seems to be no intention on the part of the government to deal with the problem of water crisis and officials including the chief secretary are totally irresponsible and have failed to take any action in the past eight months. This shows how the state's claim on seriously handling the ever-persistent problem of potable water in Rajasthan is nothing more than a mirage," said Justice M N Bhandari. The single judge bench, which has been hearing a PIL demanding restoration of water bodies for the past several months, was expected to pronounce its judgment on Monday.

However, soon after the court took up the hearing in the morning, the state government moved an application requesting that the matter shall be heard by a division bench as the issue is of larger public interest. This was strongly opposed by the members of court-appointed monitoring committee.

"The state government had time and again assured this court that they would take appropriate steps against encroachments. Even the chief secretary who appeared before the court in March along with other principal secretaries had given an undertaking that the government would itself take a conscious decision to see that the water bodies in the state are restored to their original shapes and dimensions as per law. Now, the government's application that the matter be heard by a division bench when the judgment was to be pronounced is contemptuous," contended senior advocate Virendra Dangi, a member of the monitoring committee.

Justice M N Bhandari then directed chief secretary C K Mathew to appear in person, who soon arrived in the court. The bench asked Mathew to explain as to why contempt proceedings shall not be taken against him and other principal secretaries who had earlier appeared along with him and wasted court's time.

"We know the design behind such applications. It is clear that the government machinery is being misused by a few. There seems to be no seriousness towards the issue of consistent droughts and scarcity of potable water and encroachment in water bodies. Not only illegal allotments have been made, but those were regularized by the government itself in river beds, ponds, dams and catchment areas of such bodies," observed Justice Bhandari.

Earlier, the state government in an affidavit filed in the court had confessed that the catchment areas of rivers, dams and other water bodies have not only been illegally allotted but also regularised against the law. However, the officials had taken a view that in case the original status of all the water bodies -- as it existed in 1947-- is restored, it will create law and order problem. As such, the court's order would be complied effective from 2004 when a judgment to that effect was delivered.

Dangi brought to the notice of the court that Section 16 of Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955, bars allotment of any land of water bodies to any private persons.

The bench asked Mathew, "What action did you take pursuant to the undertaking given on March 23. What action has been taken against the erring officials and where is the list of their names?"

"We held one meeting thereafter. We came to know that as per the rules, the matter is required to be heard by a division bench. As such, we moved the application and held no meeting. We haven't prepared any list of officers as required and undertaken by me," told Mathew.

Reprimanding Mathew, the bench then sought a direction on the issue from the Chief Justice with a clear note on the conduct of the state government.

© 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved

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