Court seeks status report on illegal constructions

CHENNAI, MARCH 2. Taking a serious view of "rampant illegal constructions" in Kodaikanal, the Madras High Court has directed the Forest Secretary, the District Collector, the Municipal Chairman and the Commissioner to file a status report on the extent of illegal constructions, measures taken to curb the menace and to protect the environment at and around the hill town.

This order was passed by a Division Bench comprising Justice R. Jayasimha Babu and Justice S. Sardar Zackria Hussain on a public interest litigation petition filed by K. Raj Mohan of the Kodaikanal Environmental Youth Service, which works for conservation of the Palani hills and for regeneration of endangered species.

Describing Kodaikanal as a "hill station of great repute," the Bench said: "The Secretary to Government, Department of Environment and Forests, shall file a report within two weeks and state the measures that have been taken by the Government to ensure compliance by parties concerned with the provisions of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act, which are intended to protect the environment of hill stations.

"We direct the District Collector of Dindigul to submit a report to us within two weeks, after carrying out a survey of the construction activities in and around Kodaikanal and state how many new constructions have been put up with licence in compliance with the requirement of the Act. The constructions put up without licence shall be listed and the stage of constructions shall also be indicated. The Collector shall take immediate steps to ensure that no illegal constructions are put up in future, nor any such construction started already without licence is continued any further.

"In order to carry out these directions, the Collector shall be given the required cooperation by the Commissioner and the Chairman of the municipality. The two officials are equally bound by this order as it will apply to them as well. They too shall file a report within two weeks," the judges said.

Mr. Raj Mohan sought a direction to the respondents — who included the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, the District Forest Officer, K.C.A. Kurian Abraham and others — to demolish the structures put up by Mr. Abraham, who is also the chairman of the municipality, at Vattakanal near Kodaikanal, and forbear him from raising an illegal construction at the spot abutting the Pambar Shola forests.

Originally, the petition was filed to stop blasting of rocks on the Vattakanal slopes bordering the Pambar Shola. Though initially the petitioner alleged that Mr. Abraham alone was behind the operation, he filed an amendment petition later seeking to implead a pastor, M. John Ayyadurai, also after the lattermoved the court claiming that the structure under construction was not a place of worship but his "residence."