Successive governments in Punjab today virtually landed themselves in an embarrassing position during the hearing of a petition on smooth take-off of the Chandigarh international airport after a visibly concerned IAF told the Punjab and Haryana High Court that 31 meetings since 2013, including one with a CM, had made little difference.
Beseeching the Bench to come to the rescue of the airport from the security point of view, a senior functionary minced no words to say: “Only the court can help us! We will lose this airport.” Addressing the Bench of Chief Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Arun Palli on unauthorised constructions around the airport, the officer said the setting up of new buildings and vertical expansion of the existing ones within 100 metres of the periphery were pointed out by the Air Force.
Videos of daily progress in constructions were also handed over. However, the core issue of security, alive since 2004, remained unaddressed even after 31 meetings. The officer pointed out that fresh construction activity was not noticed at present.
The Bench asserted that everyone was fighting out as if it was a personal litigation. “This is not the way to handle a PIL. The only effort was to put the buck on someone’s head… Thirty orders in six months. There used to be cooperation on issues such as encroachments… We are experts in shifting the ball in other’s court…. True colours are now coming out.”
The admonition came on the issue of cooperation between different stakeholders. Appearing before the Bench, Punjab Advocate-General Atul Nanda said the state was concerned about being run down on the issue of clearing illegal constructions, while the obligation was that of the IAF under the Works of Defence Act. “The government wants to facilitate everything, but no one was entitled to malign it”.
Assistant Solicitor-General of India Chetan Mittal, on the other hand, insisted that the power to act against fresh illegal construction was not with the Air Force, but the Deputy Commissioner under the Defence Act.
CAT-III and southern taxi track
The amicus curiae, senior advocate Manmohan Lal Sarin, told the Bench that clearance at the local level had been granted for the CAT-III and southern taxi track, but the matter was pending before the Ministry of Defence. He also expressed apprehension that a further delay in the decision would hold up the project. Sarin’s suggestion for convening a meeting by the Defence Secretary of different heads within the ministry found favour with the Bench.
The Bench, during the course of the hearing, was told on behalf of the Zirakpur Municipal Corporation that no less than 300 unauthorised structures had been identified in the area and notices too had been issued. Further proceedings would be carried out in accordance with the provisions of law.
The Bench made it clear that the existing constructions would be dealt with in accordance with the law. Its immediate concern was fresh construction activity around the airport’s periphery. “If you don’t remove the encroachment immediately, people will come and sit and indulge in more encroachment. The right way is to remove it immediately,” the Bench asserted.
Referring to the previous orders, the Bench added it would initiate proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act and issue necessary orders, including ones for removal of unauthorised structures, in case fresh illegal constructions were noticed. The Bench also called for a fresh report on illegal constructions within 100 metres of the airport’s periphery from the Air Force.
Punjab Aviation Secretary Tejveer Singh convinced the Bench of an all-out effort for finding a place of greater prominence for the airport on the world’s aviation map. Tejveer Singh submitted that unique incentives were being given in monetary terms. The Punjab Chief Minister had also shot off a communication to the quarters concerned for inclusion of Chandigarh in the South East Asia Open Sky Policy. Low VAT on aviation fuel was also an incentive. Tejveer Singh also told the court that a conference would be held in Delhi for popularising the airport among the airlines.
The case witnessed a verbal spat between Nanda and Mittal. Nanda said Mittal was trying to shout him down. Mittal said he had even been taking adverse orders in the case for the achievement of the objective by the PIL. The case also saw an undertaking by the Zirakpur MC to complete the work of drainage till August and repair the approach road within 100 days.