Taking into account constitution of a committee on its order to curtail illegal diversion of the natural flow of water to create artificial waterfalls in private resorts and estates, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has issued a series of directions for the effective functioning of the committee.
A Division Bench of Justices R. Mahadevan and J. Sathya Narayana Prasad observed that the government had not taken earnest steps to curtail creation of artificial waterfalls. Even officials colluded with landowners for creation of private waterfalls. Despite complaints, no action was taken. Such callous attitude of the authorities could not be countenanced, the judges observed.
The National River Conservation Directorate aimed at protecting and restoring waterbodies. The State must also endeavour to have such a body. The importance of preservation and the role of the State as the custodian of natural resources based on ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ could not be undermined, they observed.
The court directed the committee to inspect all rivers in the State and identify diversions, if any, of waterbodies for private or commercial gain and submit a detailed report to authorities within three months. The committee should inspect all resorts in order to ascertain where private falls had been created by diverting the natural flow of water.
The committee should also ascertain whether all approvals, planning and building permits and licences had been obtained from local bodies and Forest Department for creating resorts. Based on the committee’s report, the authorities should close illegal private falls and take criminal action against the property owners.
The authorities should also initiate departmental action against the officials, who colluded with them, the court directed.
Taking into account that private waterfalls had been set up on lands belonging to Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam that had been rented out or encroached upon, the court directed the Commissioner of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to ensure that the Adheenam cancelled the lease deed and restored the properties where illegal private falls had been created.
The Forest Department should inspect all such premises and take action if deforestation had taken place to set up resorts and private waterfalls, the court directed.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by R. Vinoth of Ambasamudram, seeking action against those who had set up illegal artificial waterfalls. The court has posted the matter for reporting compliance after three months.