Two days after it brazenly pushed through an amendment to a 119-year-old law to allow construction on Aravalli hills, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government in Haryana was today (Friday, March 1) rebuked by the Supreme Court and told not to implement the Bill it had got passed in state assembly.
“Do you think you are supreme? It is sheer contempt of court,” the Supreme Court told Haryana government.
“The state is in gross contempt of the court. You may think you are supreme, it is the law that is supreme,” the bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said.
The bench added: “No action to be taken by the Haryana Govt in furtherance of the PLPA amendment. The Legislature is not supreme, the courts view must also prevail, you cannot get rid of the Judiciary like this.”
The state government had pushed through a Bill amending the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), which protects the green cover of the Aravalli. The amendment had the effect of throwing open around 60,000 acres of forests in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Nuh, Mehendargarh and Rewari, for construction purposes.
Ordering the state government not to implement the Bill, the Supreme Court said, “We will not allow such kind of misadventure…You are not above the law…Legislature is not supreme…It is really shocking that you are trying to destroy the forests.”
The top court said that it was aware that the Haryana government “will do this to favour the builders…and that is why we had warned earlier.”
“It’s shocking that you still went ahead despite our warning,” observed the court during a hearing on an illegal colony – Kant Enclave – in Faridabad. The Bill grants legitimacy to Kant Enclave, nestled in the Aravalli hills. The top court had ordered the demolition of the colony last year.
The matter will be heard again on Friday, March 8.
The court made the observation while hearing a plea by noted environmental lawyer MC Mehta raising concern large-scale and flagrant violations in a large number of immoveable properties throughout Delhi, flagrant violations of various laws including Municipal Laws, Master Plan and other plans besides environmental laws.
Amicus Curiae (advisor to the court) Ranjit Kumar, had brought to the notice of Supreme Court, about the PLPA amendment in the Haryana Assembly on Wednesday.
The amendment was passed amid uproar in the House with the opposition Congress and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) legislators demanding that the bill is sent to an assembly committee for re-examination. The Opposition said that the new law will only help real estate developers and mining companies and claimed that the BJP government in the state passed the contentious bill allegedly to win the support of the real estate dealers ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Residents of Gurgaon, Faridabad and Delhi have been protesting for last few months against allowing construction and other commercial activities in the Aravalli green belt – a delicate ecological zone and biodiversity hotspot – that is home to nearly 400 species of plants and some 200 species of native and migratory birds.
At 3.59 percent, Haryana already has the lowest forest cover in the country compared to the India average of 24 percent. The PLPA is meant to protect areas ‘not notified’ under the Indian Forest Act as reserve or protected forests in the states of Haryana and Punjab. In Haryana, the PLPA extends protection to forests and trees on private lands, community lands, panchayat and municipal lands in the uncultivable hills of the Aravallis in the south and Shiwaliks in the northern parts of the state. Forest areas notified as per special orders under the PLPA in Haryana amount to 75,000 acres, or 33% of the effective forest land in the state.
The amended law excludes tracts of land included in the final development plans or town improvement plans from the ambit of the PLPA and was applicable with retrospective as well prospective effect.
The amended law also granted legitimacy to Kant Enclave in Faridabad, which was built on PLPA notified land and was ordered to be demolished by the Supreme Court.
The apex court had then said, “Kant Enclave is a forest or is a forest land or is required to be treated as a forest or forest land and absolutely no construction activity could have been permitted on it with effect from August 18, 1992. Any and all construction activity in Kant Enclave since that date is illegal and impermissible in law.”
The chief minister, however, assured the House that there was no wrong intention behind the amendment bill. “And if one believes there is any wrong intent, then one can challenge it in a court of law,’’ Khattar said. It was challenged and Khattar got rapped on his knuckles.