The Bombay High Court at Goa directed the Town Planner, Town and Country Planning Department, Quepem, to initiate action in accordance with law inter alia to find out whether there was any illegal hill cutting and landfilling in properties surveyed of Village Xeldem of Quepem Taluka.
The Division Bench of Justice M.S. Sonak and Justice Bharat P. Deshpande disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) complaining the same.
From the record the Court noted that on 30.06.2023, the Deputy Collector, South-1 and Incharge Flying Squad, South Goa District at Margao issued a reminder to Town Planner, Town and Country Planning Department, Quepem, Goa, that prima facie activities attracting Section 17(A) of the Goa Town and Country Planning Act, 1974 were noticed in the above properties. The report was also forwarded to the Town Planners, who were urged to act according to law.
The Town Planner has filed an affidavit that, as of now, there is no illegal hill cutting or landfilling at the above site. The Advocate General stated that a charge sheet has already been filed against Respondent and two others and will be pursued according to law.
From the photographs placed on record and the reports of the Flying Squad, the Bench thinks that the mere filing of charge sheets is insufficient in such matters. Once illegal hill cutting or landfilling is noticed, those responsible for such illegal hill cutting and landfilling must be called upon to restore the site to its original condition at their cost and in a time-bound manner. Otherwise, an impression is gaining ground that no worthwhile action follows once illegal hill cutting or landfilling is completed. The Town planners or the police rarely follow up the criminal prosecution, and the wrong-doers reap substantial financial benefits from their illegal acts. This must stop. The legal provisions must be seriously enforced, and the violators must be visited with severe penal and civil consequences.
Accordingly, the Town Planner, Town and Country Planning Department, Quepem, must initiate action in accordance with law inter alia to find out whether there was any illegal hill cutting and landfilling. Suppose the inquiries establish such illegal hill cutting or landfilling. In that case, the Town Planner is duty-bound to issue necessary directions to the persons responsible for ensuring restoration at the cost of such persons, held by the High Court.
The Advocate General stated that if the persons fail to restore the land within the timeline indicated, the matter is referred to the Collector to ensure restoration of the land to its original condition at the cost of the persons responsible.
In this case, the Bench directed the Town Planner and, if necessary, the concerned Collector/Deputy Collector to complete the above exercises as expeditiously as possible and, in any case, within four months from today. The Town Planner must comply with principles of natural justice which might involve hearing the persons responsible for alleged illegal hill cutting and landfilling. In the peculiar facts of this case, the Town Planner should also afford an opportunity of hearing to the Petitioner. The concerned Town Planner must file a compliance report with photographs in this Court by 20 November, 2023.
Stop work orders have already been issued.The Advocate General stated that no work has been seen at the site for the last three years. Even Respondents have stated before the High Court that they are not undertaking any work at the site.
“Until the Town Planner completes his action, the Town Planner and the Collector must ensure that no works are taken up at the site in question”, the Bench directed.