Public Consultation Must in Planning and Building Metro or any Infrastructure Project

Unprecedented Decision by High Court of Karnataka holds Officials directly accountable for any lapse

Press Release : Bangalore : 17 December 2010
Background:

Environment Support Group and ors had challenged the construction of the southern reach of Bangalore Metro as being in gross violation of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and other statutes in a Public Interest Litigation (WP 13241/2009). This was associated with widespread protests over the highly illegal development of the Southern Reach of the “Namma Metro” project that fundamentally violated the Comprehensive Development Plan of Bangalore and in the process destroyed many parks and public spaces, and neighbourhoods.

The protests and the Petition highlighted how the Metro authorities callously disregarded sanctity of public commons, especially portions of Lalbagh and the boulevards along K. R. Road and Nanda Road as they destructively tore through the city's fabric with an ill-thought Metro line. A majore issue of law that was raised in the PIL was the highly questionable decision of the Government of Karnataka authorising the sale of the portion of Lalbagh as an industrial site acquired for Metro station under the KIADB Act. A Government Order authorised the Deputy Commissioner of Bangalore to sell the Lalbagh land from Horticulture Dept. to Bangalore Metro at a market price. Thus making this world famous and historical living heritage of the city a tradable commodity – a shocking precedent.

Comprehensive arguments on the Petition by all parties were heard by the High Court and the matter was reserved for judgement in June 2009 by a Division Bench of the High Court headed by Justice Mr. Gopalagowda. However, with his elevation as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court, the judgement was not delivered and the matter had to be reheard. In the meantime, the Metro authorities bulldozed their way with the Southern reach of the Metro, even extending it illegally, unmindful of the serious and irreversible consequences involved.

The ruling:

Disposing the Petition on 16th November 2010, a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court constituted by Chief Justice Mr. J. S. Khehar and Justice Mr. A. S. Bopanna observed that the "factual controvery brought out through the ... writ petitions" have been "rendered infructuous", given the substantial development of the Phase I of the Southern Reach of the Metro. However, the Court took full cognisance of the submission made by the Petitioners that "if a direction is issued to the State Government, as also, the Bangalore Development Authority to ensure that in future, in case they desire to change the land use, as has been depicted in the master plan, the competent authority shall follow the procedural mandate depicted in Section 14-A of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 And likewise in case of making a town planning scheme, the State Government, as also the Bangalore Development Authority shall comply with the procedure contained in Sections 29, 30, 31, 32 and 34 of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961".

Thereafter, the Court observed that "Mr. Basavaraj Kareddy, learned Prl. Government Advocate, who represented the State and Mr. K. Krishna, learned counsel, who on our asking accepts notice on behalf of the Bangalore Development Authority, agree, that the provisions referred to hereinabove, shall be complied with, without any deviation whatsoever". Based on this submission by the Counsels representing the Karnataka Government, the Court in a clear message to all urban planning and infrastructure development authorities in particular, and the Executive in general, warned that "(n)eedless to mention, that in case of violation of direction issued by this Court, based on statement made to this Court, the concerned officer/official shall be held responsible, for his having disobeyed the order passed by this Court, as also, the prescribed mandate of law".

Implications of the Judgement to Bangalore Metro and other infrastructure projects:

Such an order is unprecedented in the annals of jurisprudence of the Karnataka Judiciary as it is for the first time that the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and its progressive provisions mandating public participation in urban planning and infrastructure development have been fleshed out and made determinant to any urban planning effort and infrastructure development in Bangalore and other cities of Karnataka. This path breaking ruling will also serve persuasive in securing similar relief in other States where Metro and other mega infrastructure projects are being implemented, or proposed, in gross violation of land use planning laws. The judgement has enormous consequences to the further development of the Bangalore Metro (or any other infrastructure project or town and country planning scheme).

Bangalore Metro has been largely developed in blatant disregard of the public consultation requirements as laid down in the KTCP Act. While much of the 43 kms. long Phase I of the Metro has been built (or in various stages of in-completion), and the situation as far as this phase is a fait accompli, the subsequent phases of the Metro will have to fully conform with this decision of the High Court. Metro authorities cannot bulldoze their way through neighbourhoods in violation of the KTCP Act, merely on the justification that the project is in the public interest. Every directly and indirectly affected person who in the past has had to go through the arduous struggle of pleading with authorities, can now demand such mega-projects are developed only in strict accordance with law, else the officials involved will be hauled up for Contempt of Court.

Leo F. Saldanha,
Coordinator,
Environment Support Group
1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road, Banashankari II Stage, Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559-61

Sunil Dutt Yadav,
Advocate

 

For further details, contact:
Environment Support Group
1572, 36th Cross, 100 Feet Ring Road,
Banashankari II Stage,
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559-3561 Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Email: esg@esgindia.org Web: www.esgindia.org