Chennai: Wondering as to how the State itself set up a building on the Kazhuveli lands (Back Water Lands), the Madras high court quashed two government orders, transferring 2.83.50 Hectors and 12.72.00 Hectors of lands to Tamil Nadu Transport department for construction of Regional Transport office and to the Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments department for the formation of Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University respectively at Sholinganallur in Kancheepuram district.
A division bench comprising Justices M.Venugopal and S.Vaidyanathan quashed the G.O.s dated January 18, 2013 and June 9, 2014 of the state revenue department while allowing a Public Interest Litigation from I.H.Sekar, founder and managing trustee of the "Nature Trust", which was formed with an object of protecting the environment.
V.B.R.Menon, counsel for the petitioner, contended that these lands act as buffer storages of excess water during rains, which get discharged from Pallikkaranai marsh lands into the Buckingham Canal through "Thoraipakkam-Okkiam-Madav" by facilitating to recharging of wells, tanks, etc., in the nearby localities through "Aquifer effect" apart from forming a home for large extents of flora and fauna and living creatures. Any construction activities in these lands shall cause permanent damage and destruction to the above and hence need to be prevented in the interest of environmental protection and to ensure the safety and security of living creatures including human beings in the nearby villages, Menon added.
The bench said a scrutiny of the counter filed by the Kancheepuram district collector itself reveals that there were chances of stagnation of rain water during rainy season and therefore, it can be presumed that such wetlands undoubtedly play a vital role in the hydrological cycle on account of its wide ranging ecosystem services like water supply and purification, water assimilation, buffering extreme events of floods etc.,
Nature cannot be predicted and it was beyond human knowledge and wisdom and it cannot be said that the wetlands will always remain as dry lands without water. "It is the stand of the government that the Kazhuveli lands in question are proposed to be used for public use by way of setting up a transport office and tourism place and it is astonishing to note that during rainy season, especially when the building constructed thereon was surrounded by water, how can the public make use of the public office for their own use, unless the government introduces boat service to reach the destination", the bench added.
The bench said Article 48-A of the Constitution of India stipulates that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. When section 18 (1) (b) of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, empowers the State to direct any State Board to seal any plant, which affects the free flow of water, how can the State itself set up a building on the Kazhuveli lands.
The literal meaning of 'Marsh' was a low-lying area and will remain waterlogged at all times pursuant to the flood during wet seasons or during high tide.
The main object of introduction of the new rules, namely, the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules was that the wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with the principles of 'wise use' as determined by the Wetlands Authority. But, the decision of the government in transferring such lands will certainly defeat the purpose for which the new Rule was introduced, the bench added. The bench said the authorities have not adduced any material to substantiate that the disputed lands were not among the 2,01,503 wetlands categorised by the Supreme Court by order dated February 8, 2017 whereas the petitioner had annexed a copy of 'A' Register Extract, wherein it has been clearly stated that the lands in this survey number were Backwater (Kazhuveli land) and Cart-tract and Buckingham Canal.