Society for Conservation of Nature




TIMELY AND PRUDENT ACTION (Published in Tuesday 19 June 2018)

This article explains how the casual approach of some of the irresponsible Government Officials in carrying out an activity in an ecologically sensitive area without knowing the rules properly may backfire the concerned. The Executive Officer (EO) of Kannniyakumari Special Grade Town Panchayat granted licence in his order dated 17.08.2007 to maintain  two parks namely a) Beach Road Park opposite to Tamil Annai Park and b) Sunset Town Park to one Hotelier for a period of three years from 17.08.2007 to 16.08.2010 on an annual lease amount of Rs.16,000/. The order was granted to the Hotelier after following the tender formalities and after passing a resolution by the Town Panchayat. Based on that the District collector granted permission in his order dated 20.09.2007 to the Town Panchayat to entrust the beautification and maintenance work of the above said two parks.

Subsequent to the order given by the authorities, the Hotelier started demolishing the existing cement structure of the Beach Road Park located opposite to Tamil Annai Park with the idea of constructing some new structure. At that time I was working as the District Forest Officer (DFO) of Kanniyakumari District. Since I was known to many in the district, sometime during 2008, some of the Social Activists and Environmentalists phoned up and informed me about the  demolition work which was going on in the Beach Road Park. As I received a number of calls, one day evening I made a visit. While I visited the so called park, because there is no such thing to call the place a park, a JCB was doing some work of demolishing the existing cement structure. When I enquired the driver, he told that the work of improving the park by remodelling the existing structure had been assigned to one Hotelier and as per his instruction, the work was taken up. I did not say anything and returned quietly. But I noticed the violation of the CRZ provisions.

Subsequently I informed the Collector about the complaints received and my inspection of the spot briefing the violation of the provisions under CRZ Notification, 1991. In the mean time ‘Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’ (INTACH), a conservation oriented organization and the ‘Sunset Bazaar Viyabarikal Nala Sangam’ (SBVNS) filed a Writ Petition before the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court contending that the area in question comes under the Coastal Regulation Zone-I (CRZ-I) and neither any construction nor any developmental activity is permissible as it may destroy the environment and ecology of the beach. Based on the Writ Petition, an interim direction was issued by the said court sometime during May, 2008 to maintain status quo in view of the allegation that construction activities were being carried on in addition to ordering a notice.  Consequent to the cancellation of the licence by the District Collector during May, 2008, the EO also revoked the licence granted.

The District Collector and the petitioners in the public interest litigation claimed that the area in question was in CRZ-I. While the Licensee and the EO claimed that the license granted was only for the maintenance of the existing park, the petitioners in the public interest litigation claimed that there was no park at all. The Collector had observed that in violation of the conditions of the licence, the Licensee was trying to put up some constructions after demolishing the existing structure. This was refuted by the Licensee saying that he had only attempted to renovate and maintain the park. While the Licensee claimed that the establishment and maintenance of a park or playfield is a permitted activity under the notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) requiring no clearance, the Collector and the petitioners said that even for that, the permission of the District Coastal Management Committee (DCMC) should have been obtained.

Considering the above facts carefully, the Court directed the Collector to convene a meeting of the District Coastal Zone Management Committee (DCZMC) within a period of three weeks, place the entire records before the Committee and make the Committee inspect the place in presence of the Licensee. After inspection, the District Committee shall study the disputed questions namely, a) Whether the area falls under CRZ-I, II or III? b) Whether there was a park in existence? c) Whether the activities carried out were in tune with the permitted activities? d) Whether any action is needed relating to preservation of the Environment? and e) Whether any clearance is required for establishment of park?

The Court closed the Writ Petition directing the Collector to complete all the proceedings within a period of three months besides allowing the Licensee to carry on only routine maintenance work without altering the character and features of the land.

So, in order to convene a meeting and pass necessary orders in this matter the Collector wanted to inspect the area in question. He had sent a letter to me requesting to attend the inspection as the District Forest Officer is a member of the District Coastal Management Committee (DCMC). Since that particular day sometime in November, 2010 as I had to conduct the written test for selection of the Forest Guards, I had sent my Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) to Kanniyakumari beach. At about 10 o’clock, the Collector spoke to me over mobile requesting me to come over to Kanniyakumari beach as the matter was related to a case pending with the Madurai bench of Madras High Court. So, immediately I rushed up to Kannniyakumari and met the Collector. Then, the inspection of the said park in question was taken up. While we went to the seashore at the bottom of the slopy area, I asked for the map with High Tide Line (HTL) and Low Tide Line (LTL) marked. The officials of the Local Development Authority (LDA) who are under the control of the Director of the Town and Country Planning (DCTP), Chennai showed a map which was prepared during 1994. When I asked for the latest map as the HTL and LTL might have undergone major changes due to tsunami in 2004, they started blinking. By that time the Collector understood and pressed for the latest map. The Officials replied that the latest map was available at Tirunelveli office. As the matter was connected with the High Court and an early action had to be taken, the lethargic way of the officials concerned irked the Collector. When I asked them about the agency which was involved in preparing the latest map, they said it was Anna University, Chennai. Anyway with the available map, I was able to convince the Collector that the area in question was well within CRZ-I. But if the latest map is referred, definitely the chances of the area falling under CRZ-I would be more. After listening to my discussion and inspection of the said area without any park like infrastructure, the Collector made up his mind and came to a conclusion.

Subsequently the District Coastal Zone Management Committee meeting was held sometime during November, 2010 and suitable order was passed by the District Coastal Zone Management Authority (DCZMA) granting environmental clearance under CRZ Notification with certain conditions. Accordingly only the Kanniyakumari Town Panchayat can take up the activities after demarcating the HTL as per the approved plan of the Anna University with proper stone pillars. It should be ensured that the seaward area from the HTL shall not be touched. The cave like structures or openings in the concrete platform facing the sea can be filled with appropriate concrete to ensure stability. No further permanent construction activity shall be carried out without prior approval of the DCZMA. The Kanniyakumari Town Panchayat can give it to the Licensee only for maintenance and any other work shall be undertaken at the cost of the Town Panchayat. No entrance fee shall be collected from any of the person visiting the park. With so many conditions which are not in any way beneficial to the Licensee, the Hotelier did not turn up for even maintaining the park. Thus timely and prudent action taken while implementing the rules has helped saving the valuable marine environment and ecology.

The irresponsible Officials who were the cause for the entire episode were made to face the music for their misdeed.