In a bid to check encroachments on water bodies in the State, the Madras High Court on Tuesday ordered that GPS/ satellite images of water bodies across districts in Tamil Nadu, as existing on March 15, 2021, be uploaded online by District Collectors by March 17 (Iyarkai Valam Matrum Perumpalla Odai Padukappu Mala Sangam v. The Secretary to the Government and ors).
A Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy passed the order this afternoon while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) moved alleging water body encroachment through a Rs. 112 crore beautification project being undertaken in Erode.
The case prompted the Court to opine that satellite images of all water bodies must be uploaded online so that the number of water bodies that were existing at a particular point of time can be verified.
"We want you to get GPS maps as of today to indicate where your water bodies are. So, when you say there were no water bodies from Mahabharat times, we can pin you down", Chief Justice Banerjee remarked.
Whereas a reference was made to such information being available in the State's revenue records, Chief Justice Banerjee observed,
"Revenue records are as susceptible as your offices are. This is India… That affliction is all over."
The order passed by the Court contained the following directives:
Every district collector will be personally liable for ensuring that satellite images of all Talukas of the relevant district are downloaded and put up on a website by every district collectorate by March 17, 2021.
All the satellite images taken must be as of March 15, 2021.
The compilation of all satellite images of Talukas in a district must be put up on a special website to be created by March 17 by the District Collectorates.
The Master File in pdf form containing the satellite images across all Talukas in the district should reach the Chief Secretary by March 22, 2021, so that these records are maintained at the State secretariat.
A copy of the entire set of images covering the entire State in pdf form should be forwarded to the Registrar General of the High Court, where it would be preserved as a reference mark in future matters.
The Court also orally cautioned that if it is found that any construction has encroached the water body as part of the beautification project, "whether it is 112 crores or 1000 crores, we will destroy it. Get the bulldozers ready."
"Wherever there is a water body or a channel, the ground must be left untouched. If you concretise the ground, there is no natural movement. You don't know how important the insects and other life are in purifying the water," Chief Justice Banerjee emphasised.
The Court proceeded to record in its order that if any construction is found to have been made on the water body or if any construction is found to be creating any impediment to the water's flow, the same would be liable to be demolished, regardless of the cost.
The Bench further expressed concern over the flagrant disregard for laws prohibiting water encroachment.
"Water bodies are the lungs that allow human habitation and they cannot be allowed to be encroached on or even touched to maintain whatever is left of the ecology. There is flagrant disregard to the law and orders, unfortunately even by revenue authorities who are tasked with the obligation to preserve and protect public land and water bodies," it said.
The Court added that the case was indicative of the apathy towards maintaining water bodies and wanton desecration of the same all over State. Whereas there are several court orders and laws prohibiting the conversion of any water body into residential or commercial plots, the Court noted that water bodies appear to be disappearing by the day and the hour.
The Court opined that it is imperative that satellite images of all Talukas be prepared as of March 15, 2021, so that there will be a reference point to indicate the water bodies that exist.
The matter was posted to be taken up next after 4 weeks. Whereas the State counsel sought more time to carry out the exercise, more so in view of the upcoming election season, Chief Justice Banerjee declined to entertain the request.
"It's a matter of 20 minutes," Chief Justice Banerjee responded, pointing out that any official who can click a mouse would be able to download the satellite images.
"These are all done at the click of the button. All you have to do is do it in a chronological order," he added.