SHIMLA: Acting tough against an amended act that sought to regularise illegal constructions across Himachal Pradesh, the state High Court on Friday set aside the legislation enabling legalisation of over 25,000 unauthorised structures -- both commercial and residential.
"Insertion of Section 30-B by the Amending Act is contrary to the object and purpose of the Principal Act, as also ultra vires the Constitution of India, as such, we strike it down," ruled a division bench of acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan.
Disposing of a bunch of petitions that challenged the amendment by saying it was against the basic structure of the Constitution, the bench in a 86-page judgment said: "We hold the amendment to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, being manifestly arbitrary, irrational, illogical, capricious and unreasonable."
"Much, as we had desired, the amendment being totally ultra vires, cannot be saved by adopting the doctrine of severability," the judges said.
A bill for legalising illegal constructions was passed in September last year. Justifying the Himachal Pradesh Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill of 2016, then Town and Country Planning Minister Sudhir Sharma had said mass demolition of illegal buildings was not practical and thus they had brought a one-time relaxation policy to get illegal structures compounded.
The court, which had expressed its displeasure then, now observed that "the science behind planning has given way to human greed and not the need, as the Minister wanted the House to believe".
"The act does not try to protect the naive, the innocent and the people belonging to marginal sections of society, who may have raised construction through honest means," they observed.
Expressing concern over mushrooming of buildings, the judges said: "The effect of such regularisation on safety, in terms of fire and traffic remains ignored. The fragile ecology of the state warrants demolition of all illegal constructions, which are beyond the planning and permissible limits."
"We repeat excessive construction in an unplanned manner only results into depletion of source of civic amenities, burdening the stakeholders for providing the same, beyond their limited resources and capacities," they added.
Officials admitted to IANS that some of the buildings in Shimla are in danger of collapsing like a pack of cards even with a moderate intensity temblor that can be catastrophic for congested settlements where extracting bodies would be difficult, while a high-intensity quake can turn the town into a tomb of rubble as it falls in seismic zone IV-V, suggesting severest seismic sensitivity.
Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla now supports 2,36,000 people, as per provisional figures for the 2011 census.
In Sanjauli, a congested area on the outskirts, the dead often have to be lifted out of homes with ropes in case of any accidents.