The Varanasi Heritage Dossier/PIL

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The PIL[edit | edit source]

In the Year 2005, some Government officers and local leaders suggested that the KS file a PIL, i.e. Public Interest Litigation suit. [1]

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is an instrument available in India that enables persons and organisations to sue Governments and Public Agencies for not fulfilling their responsibilities and causing damage to the public. [2], [3].

The KS accepted the invitation and filed a PIL (PIL 31229 of 2005) against the Varanasi Development Authority for negligence in supervising the enforcement of heritage protection laws and for turning a blind eye to illegal constructions that were mushrooming in the prohibited zones (that are within 200 meters from the Ganges and within a 300 meter radius of ASI, i.e. w:Archaeological Survey of India protected monuments).

Vrinda Dar - Why Kautilya Society filed a PIL for protecting the heritage in Varanasi

In order to get information on unauthorised constructions and on the activities sanctioned by the local authorities on the Ganges riverbanks in Varanasi, the KS made extensive use of the Right to Information Act (that came into force on 13 October 2005); a tool by which any citizen or organisation can request information from a public authority that in turn is obliged to give a written reply within thirty days. [4]
This allowed the KS to collect evidence on the negligence of the U.P. Government regarding its activities and local implementation of policies, plans and legislation.

In the Year 2006, the Allahabad High Court issued its first order [5] instructing the (VDA) to make a list of all illegalities carried out in the heritage zone and to inform the Court on the measures being taken by VDA in order to address such irregularities. The newspapers and the Varanasi community supported the KS in its effort to bring the public authorities to task.

Back portion of Darbhanga palace in Varanasi - before demolition (2 floors), during construction (year 2004-2012) and after new construction (4 floors) "The photographic evidence shows that the old building was demolished and what stands now is a much taller and wider construction; and therefore it is completely illegal".

After continuous rebukes by the High Court and a period of prolonged hesitation, in 2008, the VDA finally submitted a list of 57 major building irregularities and formally declared its intention to "restore legality" by impeding further constructions and by ordering the demolition of all unauthorised constructions. To achieve this target, the VDA gave precise timelines that they committed to respect.

Meanwhile, the KS presented evidence that, besides unauthorised constructions identified by the VDA, some major new constructions had been irregularly authorised and illegally compounded. The most famous amongst these was the case of the rear portion of the Darbhanga Palace building. The new owners, a Hotel business, first demolished and then reconstructed a much taller building that covered a much wider ground surface and had a much bigger volume. This new building had been compounded by VDA in a heritage zone where, as per the U.P.State Government and VDA building byelaws, neither is compounding permissible nor can a Hotel be built.

In 2011, the High Court nominated an independent inspector to examine and document the status quo of the illegal constructions that had been listed by VDA. The inspection was carried out under pressure from the owners of the illegal buildings and from the VDA officers who had turned a blind eye to these irregularities. The Allahabad High Court discovered gross inconsistencies between the Inspector's statements and the factual on-ground photographic evidence that had been submitted by KS.

In December 2012, the Allahabad High Court nominated another Committee, this time to be headed by the Divisional Commissioner of Varanasi, for measuring and photographing the status quo of unauthorised constructions in the heritage zone. Once again, the report was inconsistent with factual evidence provided by the KS and with written responses provided by the Public Information Officers to queries made by the KS using the Right to Information Act provisions.

The Allahabad High Court responded strongly to being maliciously and purposefully misinformed by the Varanasi Authorities. In the 14th March 2013 judgement, the High Court labeled the report of the Committee as "nothing but an act to protect the illegal constructions" [6]; the Court formally admonished the district officers and ordered the implementation of the previous orders that had not been attended. [7]

The Allahabad High Court also instructed the VDA to speed up the resolution on illegal construction cases pending in lower courts and to carry out its declared plan of demolishing the structures that VDA itself listed as illegal. [8]

In a successive judgement, in July 2013, the High Court stalled a pharaonic construction project of the U.P. State Government on making permanent structures in the heritage zone (on and around the Assi Ghat) in Varanasi that was in open contrast with the Government laws and would have permanently disfigured the Varanasi urban landscape and the skyline of the riverfront ghats [9] These proposed constructions included jetties in the river, toilets, shelters, big bathing platforms, parks, kiosks, parking area, greening, a 9 metre wide and 635 metre long promenade. [10]

As the PIL continues, there is undoubtedly a noticeable sharp decline in new illegal constructions in the heritage zone of Varanasi and ample public debate has taken place on the kinds of laws that should be designed and enforced in Varanasi in order to balance heritage protection and economic development.

The local community is increasingly demanding that it is consulted on programmes and plans for its city and that the VDA, the Varanasi Municipal Authority and other government agencies respect the needs and hopes of local residents and listen to people's voices brought across by civil society organisations. The press is also increasingly demanding that the existing laws are equally imposed upon all and not only on those that don't have enough resources to obtain privileged treatment form the local authorities; and if there is a need to change existing laws, that these are changed equally for all and communities are involved in policy making. The KS also has submitted draft heritage legislations to the High Court, demanding that the VDA constitute a Heritage Conservation Committee that develops guidelines and plans for the heritage zone and proposes modifications in existing laws in consultation with the citizens of the city.

Being Harassed by Local Authorities[edit | edit source]

After the High Court [11] made it clear that the Varanasi Development Authority officers and the Varanasi Divisional Commissioner in person (Mr. Chanchal Tiwari) were responsible for serious negligence[12], the KS became a target of institutional harassment. The objective of this harassment was to impede the progress in the PIL, to discredit the Kautilya Society in front of the public and to deprive it of the support it had been receiving until then. Two FIRs were officially lodged against the Kautilya Society; wherein local authorities levied criminal charges on the top management of the KS.
More in ⇒ Harassment to Kautilya Society

References[edit | edit source]

  1. History of the PIL, Banaras Biradari, November 25, 2010.
  2. K. G. BalaKrishnan, Chief Justice of India (October 8, 2008). "Growth of Public Interest Litigation in India" (PDF). Supreme Court of India.
  3. Adv. Mihir Deasi and Adv. Kamayani Bali Mahabal (ed.). "Introduction to Public Interest Litigation, in Health Care Case Law in India – A Reader by CEHAT and ICHRL".
  4. THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT, 2005, Gvt. of India, June 5, 2005.
  5. Allahabad High Court Order Dated 26 May 2006 (PDF), Allahabad High Court, October 13, 2006.
  6. "The Court constituted the committee with fond hope that the committee shall identify unauthorised constructions and check those unauthorised constructions which have not yet been demolished and which are coming on very Ghats of Varanasi city for which this public interest litigation has been filed. We are dismay to note that the committee has not done its job and the photographs which have been brought today before us clearly indicate that unauthorised constructions have been ignored and the inspection has ignored several material facts. We are of the view that members of the committee who carried on the inspection, not carried the same with responsibility and the casual manner in which the unauthorised constructions are being ignored is nothing but an act to protect the illegal constructions." Allahabad High Court Judgment - PIL 31229 of 2005 - March,14,2013
  7. Order PIL 31229 of 2005 (PDF), Allahabad High Court, March 14, 2013.
  8. Allahabad High Court Order of 9 October 2013 (PDF), Allahabad High Court, October 9, 2013.
  9. Allahabad High Court Order 31229 of 2009 (PDF), Allahabad High Court, July 29, 2013.
  10. हाईकोर्ट ने सरकार से वाराणसी के घाटों के सौंदर्यीकरण का प्रस्ताव मांगा, नवभारत टाइम्स, September 3, 2013
  11. Order PIL (PIL) No. - 31229 of 2005 (PDF), Allahabad High Court, July 29, 2013.
  12. PIL 31229 of 2005 (PDF), High Court of Allahabad, March 14, 2013.

External Links[edit | edit source]

Orders of the Allahabad High in the PIL Number 31229 Year: 2005
Kautilya Society - playlist
Kautilya Society Web Site