Friday, December 1, 2023

Rajasthan High Court dismisses PIL of aggrieved villagers against landfill site

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The Rajasthan High Court has dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by  villagers of Garnia aggrieved by the orders dated 19.08.2021 passed by the Joint Secretary, Revenue Department recommending the conversion of 20 bighas land in their village as Sivay Chak and to compensate the same with 20 bighas of land of village Kurki, Tehsil Jaitaran as well as the order dated 03.09.2021 passed by the District Collector, Pali setting apart land measuring 20 bighas for establishing a sanitary landfill site in compliance of the order dated 19.08.2021.

The Garnia gram panchayat questioned the legality and validity of these orders on various grounds, the first and foremost being that the District Collector has no legal authority to pass such an order. Another submission is made that the land in question falls within the catchment area of the village pond and if the sanitary landfill site is constructed there, the flow of water through the site would pollute the water and thereby contaminate the village pond.

Submissions have also been made that Garnia gram panchayat has limited Gochar land ad measuring 260 bighas only and if huge chunk of land ad measuring 20 bighas is deducted for construction of sanitary landfill site, the land for cattle to graze would be drastically reduced.

Submission is also made that the land granted by way of compensation is located at a significant distance and thus, the same would be of no use whatsoever for grazing purposes.  

Another submission was made before the High Court  that the MLA of Jaitaran as well as the sarpanch and villagers of the Gram Panchayat Garnia and so also the Members of the Municipality, Jaitaran have taken resolutions regarding the said piece of land not being viable for the sanitary landfill site.  

The respondents in reply have opposed the submissions advanced by the petitioners. Reliance is placed on the judgment rendered by the High  Court in the case of Lalit Choudhary & Ors. vs State of Rajasthan & Ors. (D.B. Civil Writ PetitionNo.5386/2021, decided on 24.01.2022) wherein, it has been held that under Rule 7 of the Rajasthan Tenancy (Government Rules), 1955 as amended vide notification dated 03.11.2020, the District Collectors have been given powers to set apart pasture land for allotment to be used for public purposes and that prior permission of the State Government is not required for exercising such powers. Reference is also made to another judgment rendered by this Court in the case of Hari Ram & Ors. vs Stateof Rajasthan & Ors. (D.B. Civil Writ Petition No.6995/2022,decided on 27.08.2022) wherein, in an identical controversy regarding setting up of carcass disposal plant, this Court repelled the challenge laid thereto at the instance of the villagers.  

During the course of arguments, counsel  R.S. Choudhary pointed out that the petitioners have undertaken an extensive exercise and have been able to identify alternate Gochar lands in the village Patus, Thakarwas, Bhakarwas, Khatikheda,  Khinawari and Katoliya where sanitary landfill site can be constructed.

To this submission, the counsel for the respondents, while referring to satellite maps submitted that none of these villages have proper road access and thus, the transportation of solid waste to such locations would be impossible. It is pointed out that the site which has been identified and set apart under the impugned orders is located adjacent to the Jaipur-Jodhpur highway. It has further been submitted the sanitary landfill site will be encumbered by a high boundary wall, the foundations thereof will be of reinforced concrete and thus, there is no possibility of any contamination of water on account of the landfill.  

The attention of the Court was also drawn to the order dated 15.09.2022 passed by the National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi whereby compensation to the tune of Rs 3,000 crores has been imposed on the State of Rajasthan on account of failure to manage the solid and liquid waste material.   

The Division Bench of Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Kuldeep Mathur  observed that ex-facie, the contention of the petitioners’ counsel regarding the legality of the impugned order whereby the sanitary landfill site was identified and was set apart from the Gochar land is devoid of any merit. The order dated 19.08.2021 was passed by the State Government which is unquestionably competent to pass such a direction. The order dated 03.09.2021 passed by the District Collector was issued in compliance with the order of the State Government. There cannot be any issue regarding legality of these orders. 
Regarding the viability and feasibility of the sanitary landfill site identified by the respondent authorities, the Court found that much exercise has been done during the pendency of the  petition and what can be culled out from the documents placed on record that the questioned site is the only viable and feasible location for the sanitary landfill. 

On  perusal of the map presented along with the petition, the Bench observed that is enough to satisfy the Court that the identified site is located near the Jodhpur-Jaipur National Highway. Various private khatedari lands are located adjacent to the identified sanitary landfill site and thus apparently, there cannot be any question of flow of water from the landfill site because on one side of the site, there are khatedari lands. Otherwise also, the  Court has been given to understand that the respondents would be securing the site by constructing deep foundations and high boundary walls. 
Therefore, the possibility of contaminated waste flowing from the sanitary landfill site towards the village pond is non-existent. Regarding the resolution of the Municipal Board dated 09.07.2022 not to accept the proposed sanitary landfill site, suffice it to say that the said resolution is self-contradictory because it has been observed herein that under the directions given by NGT, the Municipality needs a dumping yard. It has further been observed that the matter is lis pendens in the High Court and the Municipality would be bound by the directions given. However, simply on the oral version of a councillor named Shri Bhenaram, a proposal was passed not to accept the sanitary landfill site sanctioned at village Garnia. It may be mentioned that the Executive Officer has marked his objection to the said proposal, the Bench noted.

In view of the above discussion, the High Court opined that it is not a fit case warranting interference in the decision of the respondents to sanction 20 bighas 30 biswas land from Gochar land of  Village Garnia for setting up the sanitary landfill to be used by the Municipality, Jaitaran. 

The respondent municipality is directed by the High Court  to proceed with the construction of the establishment of the landfill site and to complete the project at the earliest so as to escape further penalties from the National Green Tribunal and also to ensure that proper disposal of the solid waste can be made, which is in the greater public interest.

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