Watered down?

Watered down? one of the most dramatic conflicts over land use ended with the Gujarat High Court (hc) delivering the final judgement in the Ahmedabad lakes case. The hc has directed the government authorities, which had actively contributed to the destruction of the city's waterbodies, to protect and recharge them. However, the restriction on building activity around lakes, which had brought builders to their knees, has been lifted. The judgement was delivered in August on a group of public interest petitions demanding revival of the city's lakes (see Down To Earth ; Vol 11, No 3, June 30, 2002).

The conflict had produced several remarkable interim orders. Most notable was the restriction imposed on April 18, 2001, which prohibited all construction within 500 metres of lakes smaller than 5,000 square metres and one kilometre of the bigger waterbodies.

Aimed at preventing further degradation of the lakes' catchments, the order brought construction activity to a virtual standstill in the city for more than a year. The interim order was passed by a two-judge bench comprising Justice B C Patel, recently elevated to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court as the chief justice, and Justice D A Mehta.

The curbs on building activity resulted from the court taking a strong view of the authorities' lack of interest in the city's waterbodies. Much to the annoyance of builders and government authorities, the order halted construction in 70-90 per cent of the city's land area. Consequently a large number of builders had approached the court seeking revision of its previous order.

The final judgement, delivered by Justice D A Mehta and Justice R K Abhichandani, who replaced Justice Patel says: "The question of determining the peripheral area surrounding a lake or pond on which construction may be prohibited will be taken up by the concerned authorities....' Earlier in May 2002, the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority had notified the General Development Control Regulations, permitting construction nine metres from the waterbodies.

The final order also notes: "The interim orders made in these petitions have, however, goaded them (the authorities) into some action and the final responses on behalf of the state government, the urban development authorities and the municipal corporation have raised a distinct ray of hope that may in the near future glitter on the surface waters of the waterbodies that are promised to be reinforced and preserved.'

But recent reports in the media paint a bleak picture. In a report entitled

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