DB directs retrieval of land under illegal possession of hoteliers at Patnitop

CBI likely to produce challan within two-three months
Progress made in investigation submitted in sealed cover
Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Nov 11: In a major development, Division Bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sindhu Sharma has directed the Forest Department, Revenue Department and Patnitop Development Authority to retrieve the land which is in the illegal possession of hoteliers at this tourist resort by removing all the encroachments in accordance with the relevant law.
Moreover, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is likely to produce challan in FIR No.RC0042020A0003 dated August 1, 2019 within next two-three months as ongoing investigation is at advance stage.
When the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) titled Harcharan Singh and Others Versus State of Jammu and Kashmir and Others came up for hearing through the virtual mode, Advocate Monika Kohli appearing for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitted that the agency has made substantial progress in the investigation and more than 40 witnesses have been examined till date.
“I have been conveyed to submit that investigation will be completed within next two-three months”, she further said while submitting in a sealed cover a report containing the progress made in the case till date. However, the Division Bench preferred to open the sealed cover on next date of hearing for examination and passing of necessary orders but at the same time directed the CBI to file fresh report by or before next date of hearing.
The CBI, which was entrusted the task of conducting investigation into illegal constructions and encroachments at Patnitop vide High Court order dated December 31, 2019, is examining the aspect of encroachments on forest and other public land; illegal change of use and misuse of the land in violation of the permitted use; raising of illegal constructions and failure of the authorities to take action.
Moreover, the premier investigating agency of the country has been asked to fix the responsibility of the persons who were at the helm of affairs, were duty bound to and responsible for taking action; their failure to proceed in accordance with law on issues regarding several aspects relating to the illegal constructions compounding and misuse thereof and any other illegality which is revealed during the course of the enquiry.
Advocate Rahul Pant appearing for Public Interest Litigation submitted that Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into criminal aspect of the matter but the removal of encroachments and retrieval of excess land in possession of hoteliers illegally is the duty of the concerned authorities of Jammu and Kashmir administration.
“Even after admitting encroachments and other violations the authorities of the Union Territory have not initiated any step in this direction”, he further submitted, adding “even the petitioner is receiving threats from the encroachers”.
Accordingly, Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice directed the Revenue Department, Forest and Environment Department and Patnitop Development Authority (PDA) to forthwith take steps for retrieval of land which is in illegal possession of the hoteliers. “These authorities shall also take steps for removal of the unauthorized constructions in accordance with the law”, the DB said in the open court.
Moreover, the DB reiterated directions to SHO Kud Police Station to ensure that nobody harms the petitioner.
Additional Advocate General F A Natnoo appeared for the Patnitop Development Authority, Deputy AG Aiyaz Lone for the Forest and Environment Department and Senior Advocate Sunil Sethi, Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed and several other lawyers appeared for the hoteliers.
As per the report already submitted by the Chief Executive Officer of the Patnitop Development Authority, violations of constructions as well as encroachments by the hoteliers are between 2442 square feet to 26154 square feet and names of all the encroachers and violators have also been furnished to the High Court.
It has been submitted before the Division Bench of the High Court that lot of trees have been removed in order to effect the encroachments and raise illegal and unauthorized constructions, which have resulted into degradation of the environment in the area under the jurisdiction of Patnitop Development Authority.
“Such extensive and illegal commercialization in the eco-sensitive area have caused irreparable damage to the ecology of the Patnitop, a very popular hill resort in the Jammu province. There can also be no dispute at all that forest area and agricultural area has to be so maintained and the interest of the forest and the agriculture cannot be compromised”, the DB had observed in the earlier orders.
“The impunity, with which the authorities and the hoteliers have continued with the glaring illegal activities, is suggestive of deep-rooted complicity and collusion in the matters between the official machinery on the one hand and the owners of the guest houses, lodges and hotels in Patnitop”, the DB had further observed.