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Don’t want Chandigarh to be another Bengaluru, warns Supreme Court in order banning apartmentalization

The apex court recommends that that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be made mandatory for urban development.

The Supreme Court has observed that Bengaluru, which was once considered to be among India’s best cities, was now struggling on account of unsystematic and thoughtless construction.

The city is having to deal with heavy floods and waterlogging, shortage of potable water, nightmarish traffic jams, poor garbage disposal and rapidly shrinking water bodies, the apex court said.

A division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and BV Nagarathna said on January 10 that “the warning flagged by the city of Bengaluru needs to be given due attention by the legislature, executive and the policymakers.  It is high time that before permitting urban development, EIA (environmental impact assessment) of such development needs to be done.”

“Before we part with this judgement,” Justice Gavai wrote in the ruling, “we observe that it is high time that the legislature, executive, and the policymakers at the centre and state levels take note of the damage to the environment on account of haphazard development and take a call to take necessary measures to ensure that the development does not damage the environment.”

The apex court made these observations while hearing a plea by residents of the northern part of Chandigarh who are resisting the administration’s practice of converting single residential units into apartments.

The residents said in their plea that the practice prevalent in Chandigarh city of converting single residential units into apartments had irrevocably altered the character of the first planned city of India, and overburdened the existing infrastructure and facilities.

Referring to a cover story published in India Today in October 2022, titled Bengaluru – How to Ruin India’s Best City, the bench said the article depicted the sorry state of affairs as to how Bengaluru, once known as the garden city, had been ruined by haphazard urban development.

Rain havoc 

The article took note of how on account of one major spell of rain in September of 2022, the city bore the brunt of nature’s fury. Parts the city   were inundated by heavy rain.

The loss the flood caused to the Outer Ring road tech corridor alone was estimated to be over Rs.225 crore, the bench observed.

The article noted that while heavy rains had submerged many houses, on the other hand, the city faced a huge shortage of drinking water, the bench observed.

The article said the rapid expansion of the city, with no thought given to transportation and ease of mobility, had led to nightmarish traffic jams on its arterial roads.

It notes that, almost overnight, Bengaluru's municipal jurisdiction had grown from 200 sq. km. to 800 sq. km.

The article observed that the only one to benefit had been a politician-­businessman-­builder nexus and although posh colonies had mushroomed in new areas, the infrastructure had  lagged behind. Roads remained narrow, the drainage poor, and no adequate provision had been made for garbage disposal, the bench noted.

Water bodies 

The article said primary canals, known locally as rajakaluves, were once  natural  rain­fed  streams across which farmers built small bunds over time, to arrest the flow of water and create lakes.

It notes that these interlinked man­made lakes worked as a storm­water drain network.  However, in order to meet the demand for space for construction and roads, the administrators allowed the lakes to be breached regularly.

The lakes, which once numbered 1,000-odd, are now reduced to a paltry number.  Worse, the rajakaluves that channelized the storm water had buildings constructed over them, the order observed.

On January 10, justices Gavai and Nagarathna came down heavily on the Chandigarh administration for "blindly sanctioning" building plans and said it was apparent that they were in effect converting one dwelling unit into three apartments.

The Chandigarh case

"Such a haphazard growth may adversely affect the heritage status of Phase­-I of Chandigarh, which is sought to be inscribed as a UNESCO's heritage city," the bench had said in its 131-page order.

The top court delivered its judgement on the appeals challenging the November 2021 verdict of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had held that there was no provision under the Capital of Punjab (Development and Regulations) Act, 1952, or the rules under it governing transfer of shares in relation to a site or building whether owned singly or jointly.

In its verdict, the apex court said permitting redensification of Phase­-I, which has heritage value on account of being "Corbusian Chandigarh," without the the plan being approved by the Chandigarh Heritage Conservation Committee, was contrary to the Chandigarh Master Plan (CMP)­ 2031.

Corbusian is a reference to Le Corbusier, the French architect who planned the city of Chandigarh.

The bench noted that the high court said  "apartmentalisation" was not permissible and that although developers or builders were in effect constructing three apartments in a building, it did not amount to apartmentalisation.

"In our view, this would amount to permitting something indirectly which is not permitted directly," the order said.

Vandana Ramnani
Vandana Ramnani
first published: Jan 12, 2023 12:06 pm