Himachal town planners hauled in court for haphazard constructions around Manali

Shimla: Finding fault with the ‘indiscriminate and haphazard construction’ being permitted in the hill state, especially in Kullu-Manali area, the Himachal High Court came down hard on country and town planners and issued directions about ensuring enforcement of building laws, restricting number of storeys allowed and for approving development plans directed to keep environment and local architecture in mind.

In response to public interest litigation, the division bench court of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjay Karol modified its earlier order that on 33.10.2011 that had imposed a construction ban in Marhi-Rohtang area after the state town planner had then let the court know that there was no interim development plan for the area.

The court last week allowed an application of state town planner AN Gautam seeking a modification in the order after he tendered an unqualified apology for having ‘intermingled and misunderstood Rohtang Special Area with other areas’ and let the bench know that the area from Nehru Kund in Manali to Koksar in Lahaul was divided into 5 segments for development purposes.

Palchan area beyond Manali under threat from haphazard constructions

Making specific mention of segment I & II, the area between Nehru Kund and Kothi and Palchan falling on the left bank and the Solang Special Area on the right bank, the judges made a judicial note of the fact that there was phenomenal increase in construction and commercial activities in these segments, which were ‘now virtually a part of greater area of Manali town’.

Drawing attention to Section 30A of HP Town and Country Planning Act 1977, the court pointed out that the section did not grant exemptions to city dwellers who purchase land in rural area or to people who are constructing cottages for commercial purposes.

After observing that number of cottages were being built to be sold on commercial basis to people who are not even state residents, the court put director town and country planning on notice for being held responsible to ensure court orders about no construction, except by inhabitations is permitted.

The bench detailed that benefit of section 30A was only available to original owners for building farmhouses for personal use and not for their sale or those used for commercial purposes like homestays. Moreover, the court order restricted the number of storeys to three floors only.

Pointing out the building regulations related to Nehru Kund-Koti-Palchan area, the judges drew attention to permissible floor area ratio being 1.75.

“What happens if a person purchased a plot of 20 acres? Can he raise a hundred storyed building in this beautiful valley,” the judges questioned.?

The court directed the country and town planner to formulate a proper policy and submit it to the court and said that the limit of 3 storeys would not only apply to this segment but to the entire left out area of Kullu Valley Planning Area.

The court also directed video-graphing or using satellite imagery to record the entire construction activity in River Beas valley from Aut to Beas Kund, which included the towns of Aut, Thalaut, Panarsa, Bajaura, Bhunter, Kullu, Raison, Naggar, Patlikuhl, Katrain etc. so that any violations in future could be dealt with firmly.

Referring to an 1995 order of the court about not allowing any construction activity till the highest flood level of River Beas and 25 meters beyond that, the court observed that it was being breached more than followed.

The court asked for marking of the area where no construction was permitted in accordance with the earlier order.

The court directed principal secretary town and country planning to carry out a survey about how many constructions have been made in violation of the laws, who has constructed these buildings, has any action been taken against the violators and what is the penalty provided for the violations made.

With regard to segment III – the area between Kothi and Palchan upto Rohtang Special Area, segment IV -Special Area Rohtang and segment V the area beyond that in Lahaul Spiti and up to Koksar being mainly forest areas, the court kept the original orders intact of not allowing any construction activity in these areas.

About approving developing plans for different areas, the court observed that for hill areas there should be a provision of constructing sloping roofs, the minimum gradient of which should be clearly indicated.

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