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NGT has summoned owners of 11 hotels in the hill town that have been flouting environmental laws with impunity. The hearing is on March 7

~By Sucheta Dasgupta

Once known for its pristine environment, Kasauli, located in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh, is currently under stress due to a boom in the number of hotels in this hill town over the last two decades.

Many of these hotels have been operating illegally and flouting construction rules and green norms. However, coming to the rescue, the National Green Tribunal has asked the Himachal Pradesh government and state pollution control board to issue notice to several of these properties.

The petition had been filed by SPOKE (Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Environs), a non-governmental organisation, founded by former Indian ambassador to the US BK Nehru, who was its first president, Sampooran Parashar, its first secretary, social activist the late Baljit Malik, longtime resident of Kasauli Rabindra Grewal and others. SPOKE has been fighting to protect the environment of Kasauli for over 25 years.

The first such matter that came up in a court of law and, indeed went up to the Supreme Court, was that of the Hill Crest Cooperative Society, Grewal tells India Legal. It originated around 1992. An “atrocious” 14-storey building had come up on the Lower Mall Road. “The owner was one Mr Dhindsa. He ensconced himself in the town by joining Kasauli Club and becoming its secretary. He was misusing the club as his pulpit. About 40 people bought into the project,” it is reported by SPOKE. But he was evicted from the club. SPOKE took the state government to court.

The case was fought in the Supreme Court by Arun Jaitley and Soli Sorabjee. At the end of it all, the top court came out with its verdict. It declared the property illegal.

That was over 10 years ago. Around a year ago, Dhindsa, ignoring the SC order, approached the Solan district collector and sought permission to resume building the society once again. SPOKE got word of it and filed a case in the Kasauli tehsil court, obtaining a stay on this order.

One battle won but there were scores waiting to be fought. In December 2015, SPOKE moved NGT over a 42-room property being planned on the narrow Kshetrapal Marg near Roscommons. “It was in the wrong place. Apart from the ecological impact, which would be huge, it would cause massive traffic congestion,” says Brigadier WS Choudary (retired), who is the incumbent SPOKE secretary. The case was filed against the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department Corporation. An experts’ committee report was filed by the central groundwater department and a stay was made out on its basis.

However, this opened up the proverbial can of worms. About 72 new hotels, mainly privately-owned, had come up outside the protected Cantonment area, and they were operating without requisite authorization for digging borewells from the groundwater department, with no sewage treatment plants, with a permit for only 13 rooms but having over 50 of them in one instance and, indeed, flouting PCB rules with impunity. About 11 of these hotels were asked to respond to the expert committee report.

In its ruling dated January 30, the tribunal’s principal bench—headed by its chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar—had asked the HPPCB to submit its comments on the list of these properties within a week, while extending the time limit for filing a reply to it by one week to two of them—the others having already submitted their responses. The government and state PCB must also serve them notices.

The order in the Roscommons matter will be delivered on February 28. Regarding the case pertaining to the 11 private properties, March 7 is the date of the next hearing.

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