Violation of building constructions, felling of green trees go un-checked at Patnitop

Will hold probe, take strict action: Tassaduq Mufti
Gopal Sharma
JAMMU, June 9: Massive violation of building constructions at  Patnitop, a famous tourist resort of Jammu region in district Udhampur, goes  on unabated under the nose of Patnitop   Development  Authority (PDA) and the State  Forest department.
The mushrooming growth of  hotels and private guest houses in Nag Mandir, Kassal Morh  area and some other locations in the area falling under PDA in violation of Master plan, has totally exposed the functioning of  Development Authority and some key officials there who are allegedly promoting illegal constructions for their vested interests.
Sources told the Excelsior that  recently 17 such violations came to light which were also admitted by the concerned officials.  Despite blanket ban on the green felling by the Supreme Court of India, many tall green Deodar trees are being fallen in planned manner with the active connivance of some PDA and a few local Forest staff members. Not only this, many four and even five storey hotels have also come up there in the vicinity despite the clear instructions of  not exceeding the height of 33 ft, in violation of Master plan.
Interestingly, the PDA has already identified the areas for commercial activities and also demarcated Green Buffer Zone after joint survey with the State Forest  Department and the Revenue authorities but in sheer violation of this, even the commercial activities are  going on un-abated in the residential as well as Green Buffer Zones as well.   Sources revealed that majority of the violations took place during past five to eight years while the PDA officials failed to take cognizance of the matter despite receipt of several complaints.
A document of the PDA in possession of Excelsior has clearly revealed that as per the Master Plan of PDA and findings of the committee of the members including Sanjay Kailoo (FAA), Sanjay Sethi (JE), Avesh Jasrotia (Khilafwarzi  officer)  and others,  the  Khasra Numbers- 108, 109, 110, 111, 113, 114, 119, 120, 121, 166, 187, 204, 205, 206, 214, 300 and 301 fall under Green Buffer Zone. As per norms  and guidelines, any such activity is strictly  banned in such area. But despite this, at least five hostels/ guest houses/ a restaurant  and some private illegal constructions have come up there with the active connivance of ‘some insiders’. Not only this several tall thick Deodar trees have been fallen in sheer violation of Supreme Court directives.
Minister for Tourism, Tassaduq  Hussain  Mufti,  when contacted extended gratitude to the `Excelsior’ for bringing such issue to his notice.  He said if  such violations in the Master Plan or illegal constructions in Green Buffer Zone would come to his notice, he will definitely take cognizance of the matter. Mufti said  he would hold an inquiry into the matter and take appropriate action against the people responsible for it.
The Minister also referred to such violations in the areas like Pahalgam, Gulmarg and some other tourist resorts and said that other agencies should also take affective steps to stop such violations. He said the people who do this kind of violations are also from this society and they should realise the fact that their acts would encourage illegal activities in the area which would affect the environment and damage forest cover. The officials should also realise their responsibility and keep check on such activities. He assured to take serious note of it and hold a probe into the matter.
Chief Executive Officer,  Patnitop Development Authority, Rajinder Singh, however,  said that  he has taken over as CEO of the PDA recently. If there is any violation, it may be old and he was not properly aware of it. He claimed that one such case of violation of Master Plan and construction in Green Buffer Zone came to his notice. The PDA has taken cognizance of it and the case is sub- judice.
Replying to another question, the CEO said there may be some more cases  of violation and he will try to get details and share it.  He maintained that  there are very less chances of violations especially in Green Buffer Zone, because for the construction of  hotel,  guest house etc, some NOCs are  mandatory and no agency will provide this document if the area falls under Green Buffer. He also referred to probe by a committee of his office sometime back  and said that he was not well aware of that entire exercise.  Singh said Deputy Commissioner Udhampur is the Chairman of the BOCA and Chief Town Planner Udhampur has also role in it.  Therefore, there are very less chances of such violations.
Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Jammu, Sameer Bharti when contacted said that Forest department has clearly demarcated and fenced its area falling in Patnitop belt. He said  PDA deals with  the area which is State land and some private area has also been included in  its  Master Plan. Some area has been identified by it  for commercial activity. For any type of building construction,  whether hotel, guest house, restaurant  or private structure, permission of the PDA is must. But in Green Buffer zone, any such activity is strictly prohibited.
Replying to another question, the CCF said that Forest area is well fenced there  and if any green felling is reported in the area which falls under forest,  strict action will be taken against the people involved. He, however, claimed that in Forest area,  no such construction is allowed. The construction activity is coming up only on private land there or other commercial land identified by PDA.  Bharti claimed that he had also visited the area after a video clip went viral  recently regarding felling of green trees in the area. But that case was old and the concerned staff also verified it. He, however, assured to hold inquiry if any green felling in forest area is reported.