No prohibition to grant building plan approvals within 150 metres from reserve forests in hill stations, rules Madras High Court

Justice N. Sathish Kumar said private land in every hill station was surrounded by forests, and hence imposing such a restriction, would take away a citizen’s right to hold property

March 20, 2023 12:30 pm | Updated 12:30 pm IST - CHENNAI

A view of forests in the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu. File

A view of forests in the Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu. File | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

The Madras High Court has directed the Udhagamandalam Municipality to not deny building plan approvals by solely citing a statutory rule which prohibits assignment of lands situated within a radius of 150 metres from the boundaries of reserve forests, wooded lands or areas of special interest as declared by the government from time to time.

Justice N. Sathish Kumar said, a plain reading of Rule 7(2) of The Tamil Nadu District Municipalities (Hill Stations) Building Rules, 1993 shows that it only prohibits assignment of government lands situated within 150 metres from reserve forests and does not prohibit construction of buildings which had been separately dealt with under Rules 4(4) to 4(6).

“If Rule 7(2) was interpreted to mean that there is a total prohibition in respect of construction on the land, it will take away the citizens’ right to hold property in hill stations. It is relevant to note that in every hill station, private lands are surrounded by the forest. As far as the Nilgiris is concerned, the forest cover is more than 67 per cent,” the judge wrote.

“Interpreting Rule 7(2) in a manner as understood by the Municipality officials will take away the right of the citizens to live with dignity and also the right of residence which is considered as a fundamental right under the Constitution. Further, it will also take away the constitutional right to hold property,” he added.

The verdict was passed while allowing a writ petition filed by B. Nagaraj, a property owner. The judge concurred with the submissions of his counsel Sarath Chandran and quashed the Udhagamandalam Municipality Commissioner’s order refusing to grant building plan approval to the petitioner by citing Rule 7 (2). The Commissioner was also directed to not do so in future.

Justice Kumar pointed out that the Udhagamandalam Master Plan classifies the land mass into Primary Residential Use Zone, Primary Vegetative Zone, Primary Residential Zone (Economically Weaker Section), Agriculture Use Zone, Multi Use Zone, Prohibited Zone, Preserved Open Places (lake, botanical garden, race course) Zone and so on.

The regulations also list out the nature of buildings that could be permitted in each zone. Once the entire landscape had been classified by the government into different zones and building permission had been provided for, in those zones, the Municipality Commissioner could not deny approval under the pretext of Rule 7(2), the court said.

It further pointed out that Rules 4(4) to 4(6) lists out the site requirements for grant of building plan approval and states that permission shall not be granted in geologically weak zones and sites which admit stormwater draining into it. Only these and not Rule 7(2) could be cited for denying building approval, the court added.

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