A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra said the proposed project, to be developed by Tata Housing Development Company, was not within permissible limits as it fell within the catchment area of the Sukhna Lake.
In a major setback to the proposed Tata Camelot Housing Project, the Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the Rs 1,800-crore controversial multi-storey, high-end housing project near the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh cannot come up as it violated environmental norms.
A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra said the proposed project, to be developed by Tata Housing Development Company, was not within permissible limits as it fell within the catchment area of the Sukhna Lake. “Considering the distance of 123 m from the northern side and 183m from the eastern side of the project in question from wildlife sanctuary, in our opinion, no such project can be allowed to come up in the area in question,” the Bench said.
“We hold that such projects cannot be permitted to come up within such a short distance from the wildlife sanctuary. More so, in view of the Notification issued with respect to the Sukhna wildlife sanctuary towards the side of Chandigarh Union Territory and also considering the fact that proposal made by the Punjab Government, confining the Buffer Zone to 100m, has rightly not been accepted by MoEF, as the Government of Punjab as well as the MoEF, cannot be the final arbiter in the matter,” it said. The notification had clarified that no new commercial construction of any kind shall be permitted within 0.5 km from the boundary of protected area or up to the boundary of the ecosensitive zone.
Indicting the state administration for violating the public trust doctrine, the Bench said, “the court has to perform its duty in such a scenario when the authorities have failed to protect the wildlife sanctuary ecosensitive zone.” According to the judges, the Punjab government failed to act on the basis of Doctrine of Public Trust. “The origination of the project itself indicates that State of Punjab was not acting in furtherance of Doctrine of Public Trust as 95 MLAs were to be the recipients of the flats,” the apex court said, adding that “it is clear why the government has not been able to protect the ecosensitive zone around Wildlife and has permitted setting up of high-rise buildings up to 92m in the area in question, which is not at all permissible.”
Quashing entire exercise of obtaining clearance relating to the project, the Bench said, “we regret that such a scenario has emerged in the matter and that it involved a large number of MLAs of Punjab Legislative Assembly. The entire exercise smacks of arbitrariness on the part of Government, including functionaries.”
The project was to come up on 53.39 acre near the Chandigarh Capitol Complex. As many as 19 towers, with 92,100 flats, were planned to be constructed and the project was proposed to have a built up area of 7,01,370 square metre.
Tata Housing Development Company had challenged the Delhi High Court’s 2017 judgment that set aside the permissions, including environmental clearances granted in favour of the project, and had asked the Punjab government to reconsider the matter.
Earlier, a PIL was filed by advocate Aalok Jagga, who had challenged the approval given for the project in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He had alleged that the housing project violated the Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act, 1952, and the Environment (Protection) Act as it was in an eco-sensitive zone and protected area.
Besides, the residential project was in close proximity to the Sukhna Wild Life Sanctuary and had the potential of adversely affecting the claim of Chandigarh to the status of a heritage city. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had then allowed the project to go on. On appeal, the apex court in April 2014 had set aside the Punjab and Haryana HC’s order and transferred the case to the Delhi High Court.