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Sonamarg Conservation: No construction, repairs without court approval: HC to Admin

Post by Syed Rukaya on Saturday, December 31, 2022

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Srinagar, Dec 30: The High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh has directed the Chief Executive Officer, (CEO) Sonamarg and the Chief Town Planner (CTP) Kashmir to file separate affidavits indicating the steps taken by them to finalize the Master Plan 2025 to 2040. 
Hearing a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation (PIL) regarding preservation and protection of pristine glory of the Sonmarg tourist resort, a division bench comprising Justices Sanjeev Kumar and M.A Chowdhary, made it clear that till the new Master Plan is finalized and published, "all construction activities in the Sonamarg Development Area (SDA) shall be strictly as per the Master Plan in vogue i.e., Master Plan of Sonamarg 2005 to 2025."
The bench also made it clear that no construction shall be raised in the SDA or any repairs to the existing buildings carried out unless the building permission is granted by the Building Operations Controlling Authority (BOCA), Sonamarg and is approved by the Court.
The court directed the CEO, Sonmarg to also submit a latest status report about all the construction activities presently going on within the SDA and the permissions thereof, if any granted, by the BOCA, Sonamarg.
"Copies of such permissions shall also be filed along with the status report," the bench said while listing the matter for hearing on March 07, 2023. 
The directions came after an affidavit filed by the CEO, Sonamarg was submitted before the court.
The court noted it transpires that the construction activity in the SDA is presently being regulated by the Master Plan of Sonamarg for the year 2005 to 2025 and that the new Master Plan for the year 2025 to 2040 is under process with the Chief Town Planner, Kashmir.
"We would like to know the progress made in this regard. Let the Chief Executive Officer, Sonamarg, as also the Chief Town Planner, Kashmir, file a separate affidavit indicating the steps taken by them to finalize the Master Plan 2025 to 2040," the bench said.
In a previous hearing, the court had directed the CEO, SDA to appear in person before it and explain his position for preservation of meadows and glaciers and the development work he intends to carry out at Sonamarg.
The bench had also directed the CEO to place on record the Master Plan of the Sonamarg and a vision plan for Sonamarg along with the affidavit indicating the development work so far done by the authority.
Apart from developmental works, the authorities were directed to come up with the demarcation of River Sindh and removal of encroachments and all other issues relating to the river viz illegal construction on the banks of the river Sindh.
The court had also sought information from the authorities with regard to removal of illegal construction which had come up on the banks of river Sindh.
It had further directed the authorities to explore the possibility of using wooden fences, hedges and plantation of trees which are all environment friendly to demarcate the various meadows and the boundaries of the various properties instead of using steel and iron barricades or fencing.
The court was informed by the SDA through a compliance report filed the Commissioner Secretary to Government, Revenue Department that the demarcation work on Sindh Nallah (river) in collaboration with the Irrigation and Flood Control Department has been completed and as per the demarcation about 258 kanals and 12.75 marlas of land of the Sindh River is under encroachment and in possession of unauthorized occupants.
The court had noted that the department is taking effective steps for retrieving the said land but what steps are proposed to be taken or have been taken had not been indicated. 
"The manner in which the demarcation has been done and whether any boundary pillars have been erected or not has not been disclosed," it had recorded.
In the absence of such information, the bench underscored, it is not worth believing that the demarcation process has been completed or that effective steps are being taken to retrieve the encroached land while directing SDA counsel to file a better affidavit regarding the matter.
The court also noted that the direction for the demarcation of the Sindh Nalla (river) has been passed in the year 2013 and the process is yet to be completed.


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