Friday, December 8, 2023

Kerala High Court closes PIL challenging construction of new jetty in Fort Kochi heritage zone

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The Kerala High Court closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)  filed challenging the construction of a new jetty in Fort Kochi heritage zone, as part of the Kochi Water Metro project.

The  petition has been  by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which is one of the world’s largest heritage organisations established with the vision to spearhead awareness and conservation of Art and Cultural Heritage. As part of its activities, INTACH is involved in public movements against destruction of heritage structures. 

According to the petitioners, construction of the new jetty will result in destruction of Chinese fishing nets, thereby violating the heritage and culture  of the region. The petitioners also allege that, for the purpose of constructing the new jetty, three existing buildings of heritage importance is also being demolished. The petitioners hence prayed for a writ of mandamus, directing the Government as well as Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) not to proceed with the construction of the proposed new jetty in Fort Kochi, for the purpose of the Kochi Water Metro.

On perusal of the documents , the Division Bench of Chief Justice A. J. Desai and Justice V.G.Arun noted that based on the petition dated 05.01.2021 submitted by the petitioners and application submitted by the General Manager of KMRL before the Arts and Heritage Commission, the Chief Secretary convened series of meetings to resolve the issue. In the affidavit dated 9.08.2022 filed by the Additional Chief Secretary, it is stated that, for the purpose of final resolution of the matter, the Chief Secretary convened a meeting on 19.07.2022 and discussed the issue with the Principal Secretary, Local Self Government Department, Principal Secretary, Transport Department, Law Secretary, Chief Town Planner etc. 

Based on the discussion, the following decisions were taken; 

“i. Action will be initiated against agencies/officers who are responsible for issuing building permit in the heritage zone despite the report from the Art & Heritage Commission and Town Planning Department. 

ii. In view of the fact that sizable public money has already been invested. Boat Jetty alone is to be allowed to be completed at the site. No commercial building should be constructed as part of the jetty building. 

iii. All agencies, including KMRL, will take action to protect the Chinese nets and assure that the same is maintained without any hindrance to its operation.”

With respect to the decision that no commercial building should be constructed as part of the jetty building, the KMRL has filed an additional affidavit dated 19.08.2022 by which it is declared that the total built up area of the  jetty building is reduced and provision for commercial spaces within the terminal has been opted out. 

As regards the direction to protect the Chinese nets and assure that they are maintained without any hindrance to its operation, the first respondent (Kochi Metro Rail Limited, KMRL) had already filed an affidavit dated 18.02.2021, wherein it is succinctly stated that appropriate precautions shall be taken for the conservation of the Chinese fishing nets.

Moreover , the owners of Chinese fishing nets, have also filed an affidavit dated 09.11.2021. In the said affidavit, they have declared that there is no threat to their livelihood or for the existence of the Chinese fishing nets due to the   construction and operation of the water metro jetty at Fort Kochi. 

“13. The allegation of the petitioners that the 1st respondent had offered compensation to these respondents is utter falsehood and is denied. It is submitted that in all stages of the project implementation, the 1st respondent had consulted with these additional respondents and these respondents was always taken into confidence in the implementation of the project. It is submitted that the 9th additional respondent’s fishing net is the one on the immediate western side of the proposed Fort Cochin water metro jetty. There is a clearance of 18 meters provided from the fishing net and the nearest point of the jetty both on the eastern and western sides. It is submitted that these respondents does not find any threat to their livelihood or for the existence of the Chinese fishing nets due to the construction and operation of the water metro jetty at Fort Cochin and on the contrary, it is considered as a boon for their livelihood. The crocodile tears shed by the petitioners in the name of Chinese Fishing Net is their last attempt to torpedo the prestigious water metro project. The present writ petition is without bonafides and there is no public interest in it.”

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