Govt plans to shift HC from Janipur to Raika-Bahu; acquiring 813 kanals forest land

Thousands of trees to be axed
SWLB likely to clear project in today’s meeting

Gopal Sharma

JAMMU, Oct 17: As a part of ‘expansion program’ the Government is planning to shift the High Court and District Courts Complex from Janipur to Raika-Bahu, near Sidhra on Bypass road and for it, the process of acquiring 813 kanals and 13 marlas of forest land has started.
Highly placed official sources told the Excelsior that the project “Expansion of Judicial Infrastructure at Jammu”, was submitted to the Secretary, Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Department by the Registrar General, J&K High Court vide office No. 18309/Infrt, October 10, 2019, requesting allotment of land by the State Government for the proposed project.
The Government, which apparently seems to be in much hurry for the clearance of this project, very next day wrote to the Chief Conservator of Forests (FCA) vide No. LD (Sts) 2018-19/HC/263 dated 11-10-2019 of Law Department through Additional Secretary to Govt (Law Deptt) for seeking Forest clearance on the Bahu Conservation Reserve (Forest) at villages Raika and Bahu.
The sources revealed that this project is being initiated so swiftly and secretly that even the Forest Advisory Committee in its meeting held under Chief Secretary, gave the green nod for the project on October 15 (Tuesday). After the instructions from the top, now the Chief Conservator of Forests (FCA), K Ramesh Kumar, who is the Nodal officer for this project, while giving reference of the letters from Law Department and Deputy Commissioner Jammu, regarding non-availability of such a vast State or private land around Jammu, has directed the Divisional Forest Officer Jammu, Conservator of Forests East Circle Jammu and Regional Wild Life Warden, Jammu to initiate early process of Forest clearance under the provisions of J&K Forest (Conservation) Act, 1997. Even the mandatory exercise of counting trees/ Net Present Value (NPV), environment assessment, which takes some time is being over looked, in violation of Supreme Court directives, to get through this project in hush-hush manner before October 31. The State Wild Life Board (SWLB) is likely to clear the project in tomorrow’s meeting, the sources added.
While referring to the Indent for forest clearance, the Indenting agency (Law Department), has justified that due to non-availability of State/ Private land in that vicinity as per the certificates provided by the Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, the requisition of forest land/ felling of trees has been sought for the approach road and the raising of large Judicial infrastructure in Bahu Range. It also mentioned that all possibilities to identify/ acquire State / private land have already been explored before selecting this Forest land at Raika and Bahu village on Sidhra Bypass Road.
Giving compelling reasons of shifting Janipur Court complex, the report supporting Indent revealed that the existing campus of the Jammu High Court is in a decrepit State and suffers on account of various factors like narrow road/ lane access to the Court complex, inadequate for convenience of litigants, lawyers and judges, whereas, traffic jams are daily matter on this road.
It has also been projected that existing High Court building is completely unsafe from fire safety standards as well as from security point of view and therefore, under constant threat. The Fire and Emergency services during recent inspection had also recommended some measures including shifting of record / almirahs from corridors for emergency evacuation, making operational the defunct fixed fire fighting system stalled at Jammu High Court and installation of automatic fire fighting system. Moreover, there was no enough parking space available there.
As per new project, a new High Court complex with 35 rooms and space for expansion over the next 50 years to 70 court rooms, with 30,000 sqm has been proposed. There will be nearly 5000 sqm Administrative area, Mediation Centre on 1000 sqm, Arbitration Centre on 1000 sqm, Medical Centre 1000 sqm, Computer Centre 1000 sqm, Judges Library 800 sqm, Lawyers Chambers for 1000 lawyers with space for further expansion, litigants facilities on 2000 sqm, Police and security infrastructure area 1500 sqm, Archives section 1500 sqm, Judges accommodation for 35 Judges with space of expansion on 10,000 sqm, 10000 sqm area for Judicial Administration, 2000 sqm for Judicial Academy, Utility buildings 2000 sqm, 500 sqm for Fire Station, Helipad etc. It will be followed by the process for the shifting of Lower courts as well.
Former top IFS officer and noted environmentalist, Dr CM Seth when contacted and asked about his opinion on the ecology and environment aspects in and around Jammu said, ‘Bahu Conservation Reserve’ and `Ramnagar Wild Life Sanctuary’ are the ‘life-line’, or you can say the ‘lungs’ of Jammu city. Over 16 lakh population of this city would be affected with the felling of thousands of green trees in that thick forest area of Raika and Bahu with this move.
“These are the basically catchment areas on both sides for the river Tawi, which is yet another ‘life- line’ of Jammu people. River Tawi will lose its water with the extensive damage to the Forests. The Government is proposing for Artificial Tawi lake as well but from where the water will come. It will be step towards ecological destruction of the area. It is better for the Government to go for the expansion of the court at the existing place or look for some other alternate site where there is less damage to the environment and ecology of the area. The Wild Life of the area will also be badly affected. This is conservation reserve since Maharaja’s time and it is the responsibility of all, even the judiciary to protect the forests/trees,” Dr Seth maintained.
A former Jammu High Court Bar Association president, on the condition of without being quoted said that existing Janipur Court complex has been spread over an area of 576 kanals. There is enough space for the expansion there. He said at present there is strength of 17 Judges in High Court. Almost half of the number remains at Srinagar and Jammu High Courts. Moreover, for expansion multi-storey buildings can be raised. Huge public money has been spent on Jammu High Court complex and it was functioning since 1994 and Lower Courts since 2004. The Complex building is in good condition and is situated at better accessible place. It will be sheer wastage of public money. The shifting of courts from the existing place to Raika/ Bahu will neither be in the interest of lawyers, nor in general public,” he maintained.
Another senior High Court Lawyer said it is true that approach road to the existing complex at Janipur is narrow and needs widening. But for expansion, there is enough space at Janipur. Already this building was raised on Forest land and closer to Wild Life Park despite objection by State Wild Life authorities. He said what will be the utilization of so good and beautiful building where already huge public money has been spent. He suggested that court should not be shifted and constructed on such a thick forest area at the cost of environment. The Supreme Court is already so tough and serious against the ecological degradation in the country and some other suitable site should be selected if all the new parameters of the High Courts are to be fulfilled, he added.