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Government can't bypass High Court, say legal experts
'Relook' at Pahalgam Master Plan draws flak
7/7/2015 11:49:11 PM

Saahil Suhail
Early Times Report

Pahalgam, July 7: Indifference of successive governments towards protecting fragile environment of this famed tourist destination in South Kashmir, can be gauged from the fact the instead of implementing the revised Master Plan, the government has ordered to 'relook' of the same just to benefit influential and ensure construction of five-star hotel allegedly on forest land.
Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed- who also holds the Tourism portfolio-last month ordered Town Planning Organization (TPO) to immediately re-examine its earlier recommendations and submit a concrete Draft Master Plan for making Pahalgam all-season tourist destination He said the draft Master Plan conceived by the Town Planning Organization "requires a relook" contradicting his earlier stand over the issue. Syed on record during a visit to Pahalgam promised that will take the revised Master Plan drafted by Town Planning Organization under supervision High court to state cabinet for final approval, however after fortnight he ordered authorities to 'relook' the master plan.
With locals suspecting brain of land mafia behind the government move, Legal experts are of the onion that government so easily modify the revised master plan and has to seek permission from the court for the same.
The repeated delay by the Omar Abdullah led collation government and Chief Minister's fresh directive asking authorities to 'relook' draft Master Plan has drawn flak from the local residents who accuse successive government of vandalizing Pahalgam.
"The move is totally against Environment impact assessment (EIA) report and observations of expert committee constituted by High Court," Mushtaq Ahmad Pahalgam, an environmentalist, who heads an umbrella of several Unions of told Early Times. He said that it is a deliberate attempt to benefit rich and influential who are eyeing Pahalgam land for constructions of hotels, huts and other commercial structures.
"In Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report it has made clear that government must not allow construction of big structures including hotels as it affects the environment whose consequences will be devastation and Uttarakhand like disasters," he said, adding residents will resists anti- Pahalgam and anti-environment policies. "In Pahalgam Chief Minister told media in presence of locals that the Master Plan will be put before the cabinet for its final approval. But now the fresh directive indicates that the government wants manipulate it instead of implementing it," he added.
Mohd Shafi, another resident expressed anguish against the directive of Chief Minister and alleged that it was land mafia on whose behest Chief Minister issued the directive.
"The government in connivance with land mafia is buying time to manipulate the Master Plan to pave way for illegal constructions." Shafi said. Highly placed sources told Early Times that an influential Srinagar city resident has more than 22kanals of land in Chanhaji area majority of which is forest land encroached illegally. They said that the businessman had earlier in 2003-2004 attempted to process for the construction of a five start hotel on the same land but was sabotaged by then Assistant tourism officer who mustered courage and despite threats from the then the Tourism minister spoiled the plan of businessman. "He was honest officer, he didn't succumb under political pressure and in verification report he clearly mentioned that majority of land belongs to Forest Department which the businessman has encroached illegally," an officer pleading anonymity said, adding officer was immediately transferred.
Sources said that it was the main reason which compelled which forced Pahalgam residents to force Public Interest litigation in High Court.
Following a Public Interest Litigation filed by Peoples Welfare Organization (PWO), High Court put a blanket ban on constructions in Pahalgam.
Since 2011, on Court directions are revising the Master Plan (2005-2025), however in 2013 the Master Plan draft was made public.
Suggestions of the Environment Impact Assessment team constituted on the court directions were also incorporated.
Sources said that under 2005-2025 Master plan, Chanhaji area of Pahalgam is non-permissible but to benefit influential Srinagar city government is trying to put it in permissible zone which would pave way for him to construct a five star hotel.
Advocate Parvez Imroz, who is pleading the PIL on behalf of Peoples Welfare Organization (PWO), Pahalgam in High Court, said that government can't at its own modify the Master Plan.
"Master Plan was drafted under the supervision of High Court. Issue is in the court who can government at its own modify," Imroz said, adding Supreme Court has made clear that envionemnet is more important than tourism.
He said that he aware of the fact that few influential who land in Chanhaji and Ganeshbal area of Pahalgam are trying to scuttle the process.
Imroz said, "Simply Government can't bypass the high court . We will make Chief Minister answerable in the High Court for his statement according to which he has directed authorities to modify the master plan."
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