Classification of 14k hectares as Red Hills catchment area illegal: Madras High Court

Bench says CMDA has no power to declare land as no-development-area without acquiring it.
The classification was carried out as per the Second Master Plan for Chennai Metropolitan Area
The classification was carried out as per the Second Master Plan for Chennai Metropolitan Area(Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: In a significant order, the Madras High Court has declared ‘unconstitutional’ the classification of 13,720 hectares land spread over 27 villages on the outskirts of Chennai as catchment area of Red Hills reservoir on the grounds of lack of a scientific study and failure to acquire the land within three years of notification. The classification was carried out as per the Second Master Plan for Chennai Metropolitan Area

The order was passed by a division bench of Justices SS Sundar and N Senthilkumar recently on two petitions filed by private companies seeking to quash the “lock, seal and demolition” notices issued to their properties by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).

The companies, Global Waste Recycling Limited and B T Enterprises Private Limited, challenged the CMDA’s orders issued in 2017 to lock, seal and demolish the structures of the firms located at Alamathi village in Sholavaram panchayat union stating that the land comes under the catchment area of Red Hills reservoir. Interestingly, at least one of these companies had obtained planning permission after the notification of the Second Master Plan.

“The impugned order dated April 26, 2017, is hereby quashed. The classification of limited extent of 13,720 hectares of land as catchment area as per Second Master Plan is declared unconstitutional,” the order said.

The bench, however, said it is open to the respondent authorities of the government to revise the master plan, taking note of this judgment, and the final report to be submitted by CUBE, strictly adhering to the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act, 1971. CMDA has engaged CUBE (Centre for Urbanisation, Buildings and Environment) to study the “impact of urban development on Red Hills catchment area and planning interventions for its conservation and protection” and the organisation has submitted an interim report.

The respondents shall consult experts and provide necessary infrastructure to ensure protection of waterbodies throughout the area where the jurisdiction of CMDA is extended and to ensure supply of quality drinking water in sufficient quantity, the order added.

The court said it had no hesitation to hold that the impugned order lacked wisdom and suffered “legal malafides”. The bench held that the government or the local body had no right to declare the vast extent of 13,720 hectares as water catchment area if they intended to prohibit any development activity without an intention of acquiring such land.

It said if the land, declared as no-development-one, is not acquired within three years from publication of the notice as per section 26 of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act, 1971, it is deemed to be released from such reservation.

“The CMDA has no power to declare or reserve a vast extent of about 13,000 hectares of as ‘no-development-area’ or restricting development in the Master Plan, without acquiring the land under or without paying compensation,” the bench ruled.

The court also held that the impugned order is discriminatory as some others were allowed to make profitable rights over the property by holding developmental activity while the petitioners were prohibited from doing so.

Therefore, the impugned order was liable to be quashed on the ground of being arbitrary, discriminatory and irrational as the restrictions were imposed without a scientific study or knowledge of any social or economical impact and the possible benefits to the public.

Neither the provisions of TN Town and Country Planning Act nor any other provisions permits total prohibition of development affecting the land owners’ rights if the land is not acquired through proper procedure, the court said.

Senior counsel P Wilson, representing B T Enterprises Private Limited, contended that even though the CMDA can reserve the petitioner’s land in the Second Master Plan as catchment area, the land is deemed to have been de-reserved unless it is acquired within three years under Section 38 of TN Town and Country Planning Act.

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