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Kerala High Court disposes of PIL opposing construction on banks of river Valapattanam Kuppam

The Kerala High Court disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against construction and development on the banks of the Valapattanam Kuppam river.

The petitioner K P Chandrangadan is an environmental activist and a public spirited person. He has filed the PIL seeking for the following reliefs:

i) To issue a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate Writ, order or direction, directing the Respondents to prevent the illegal reclamation of the “Pazhayangadi-Kuppam” river, further destruction of mangrove forests, and to prevent any kind of activity within the area notified as CRZ-1A & 1B as per approved Coastal Regulation Zone(CRZ) maps, forthwith;

ii) To declare that all acts of construction and development on the banks of the “ValapattanamKuppam river” at “Pazhayangadi-Muttukandi” and “Thazhekavu at Thekkumbad island” are in violation of the extant norms of the CRZ Notification 2019 and the relevant provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Rules thereunder;

iii) To issue a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate Writ, order or direction, directing the Respondents to take appropriate steps to remove the unloaded red-earth and gravel, concrete pilings and wooden pilings, and all other allied equipment installed in connection with the work immediately from the river and its banks of “Valapattanam-Kuppam river” at “Pazhayangadi Muttukadu (GPS Location site No. 12.026707N 75.272786E) and Thazhekavu at Thekkumbad island (GPS Location No. N11.966321 E75.2980748) and to restore the river into its original position, including the replantation of the mangroves;

iv) To issue a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate Writ order or direction, directing the Respondents to not allow any kind of floating hotels inside the river in “Valapattanam-Kuppam river”;

v) To issue a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate Writ order or direction, directing the Respondents to take appropriate legal action against the persons who are responsible for the large-scale destruction of mangrove forests from the river and from the banks of the River and filling of the “Valapattanam-Kuppam river”;

vi) To issue a Writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate Writ, order or direction, directing the Respondents 1 to 15 to stop functioning of any kind of restaurant on the banks of “ValapattanamKuppam river” within the area notified as CRZ1A and 1B and its buffer zone ;

vii) To dispense with the translation of the documents produced in the vernacular language.

It is submitted by the petitioner that ‘Pazhayangadi Muttukadu’ comes under CRZ-1A & 1B as per approved CRZ Map. Thazhekavu at Thekkumbad island comes in CRZ-1A as per approved CRZ Map.

Both the places situate on the banks of the “Valapattanam-Kuppam” river in Kannur District of State of Kerala. The proposal by the State Government for approval of developmental activities in the above two places was deferred by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC-CRZ) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Govt of India.

However, in spite of such refusal for approval, work started causing mass destruction of the environment. Thick mangrove forest from the buffer zone in CRZ being extensively destroyed by using JCB. About 60 Cents of river in CRZ 1A & 1B encroached upon and almost filled by unloading red-earth.

The work is stated to be done under the State Government in the name of “Mangrove Cruise Route Project” and “Theyyam Cruise Tourism Project”. Such mass destruction of the environment is being done by misusing the funds allocated by the Central Government for the “Grameena Darshan Programme” which is renamed by the Government of Kerala as “Malabar River Cruise Project”. Petitioner is aggrieved by the illegal and unauthorized developmental activities being done by some unknown private agencies with the silent support of the State Government authorities in gross violation of the law and the CRZ norms.

On 15th December 2022, the High Court have passed an interim order, directing the respondents to stop all kind of activities on the banks of the “Valapattanam-Kuppam river” at “PazhayangadiMuttukandi” (GPS Location site No.12.026707N 75.272786E) and “Thazhekavu at Thekkumbad island” (GPS Location No.N11.966321 E 75.2980748) forthwith, until clearance is obtained from the competent authority .

Nagaraj Narayanan, Special Government Pleader (Forest) submitted that pursuant to the interim order of the High Court dated 15th December, 2022, construction activity has been stopped.

After adverting to the submission of M.P.Prakash, Standing Counsel appearing for the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority (respondent No.11) and the deliberations made in the Expert Appraisal Committee, the Division Bench of Chief Justice S.Manikumar and Justice Murali Purushothaman have recorded the fact that the project submitted by State of Kerala (respondent No.1) has not been approved.

Having regard to the above, the Court is of the view that till the clearance is obtained from the competent authority on the proposals stated to have been submitted by Mattool Gram Panchayat (respondent No.15), no construction is permissible. Thus prayer Nos.1 and 2 are answered accordingly.

As regard the third prayer is concerned, i.e., removal of unloaded red-earth and gravel, concrete pilings and wooden pilings, and all other allied equipment installed in connection with the work immediately from the river and its banks of ‘Valapattanam-Kuppam, river’ and Thazhekavu at Thekkumbad island and to restore the river into its original position, the High Court is not inclined to issue any such direction for the reason that continuation of the work already undertaken be possible only if clearance is granted by the competent authority. Moreover, if the relief sought for is granted, it would incur expenditure for such removal of unloaded red-earth and gravel, concrete pilings, wooden pilings, etc. the High Court refrained from granting the said relief sought for in the petition.

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