M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath & Ors on 13 December, 1996
Author: K Singh
Bench: K Singh, S S Ahmad
KAMAL NATH & ORS.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 13/12/1996
KULDIP SINGH, S. SAGHNR AHMAD
THE 13TH DAY OF DECEMBER, 1996
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kuldip Singh Hon’ble Mr. Justice S. Saghir Ahmad In-person for Petitioner
H.N. Salve, Sr. Adv., M.S. Vashisht, Rajiv Dutta, Shiv Pujan Singh, J.S. Atri, L.R. Rath, Advs. With him for the Respondents.
J U D G M E N T
The following judgment of the Court was delivered: Kuldip Singh J.
This Court took notice of the News item appearing in the “Indian Express” dated February 25, 1996 under the caption – “Kamal Nath dares the mighty Beas to keep his dreams afloat”. The relevant part of the news item is as under:-
“Kamal Nath’s family has direct links with a private company, Span Motels Private Limited, which owns a resort – Span Resorts – for tourists in the Kullu-Manali valley. The problem is with another ambitious venture floated by the same company – Span Club.
The club represents Kamal Nath’s dream of having a house on the bank of the Beas in the shadow the bank of the Beas in the shadow of the snow-capped Zanskar ranges. The club was built after encroaching upon 27.12 bighas of land, including substantial forest land, in 1990. The land was later regularised and leased out to the company on April 11, 1994. The regularisation was done when Mr. Kamal Nath was Minister of environment and Forests. …. The swollen Beas changed its course and engulted the Span club and the adjoining lawns, washing it away. For almost five months now, the Span Resorts management has been moving bulldozers and earth-movers to turn the course of the Beas for a second time.
The heavy earth mover has been used to block the flow of the river just 500 meters upstream. The bulldozers are creating a new channel to divert the river to at least one kilometer downstream. The tractor trolleys move earth and boulders to shore up the embankment surrounding Span Resort for flaying a lawn. According to the Span Resorts management, the entire reclaiming operation should be over by March 31 and is likely to cost over a crore or rupees.
Three private companies – one each from Chandigarh, Mandi and Kullu – have moved in one heavy earth mover (hired at the rate of Rs. 2000 per hour), four earth movers and four bulldozers (rates varying from Rs 650 to Rs 850 each per hour) and 35 tractor trolleys, A security ring has been thrown all around. ………………Another worrying thought is that of the river eating into the mountains, leading to landslides which are an occasional occurrence in this area, Last September, these caused floods in the Beas and property estimated to be worth Rs 105 crore was destroyed. ………………Once they succeed in diverting the river, the Span management plans to go in for landscaping the reclaimed land. But as of today, they are not so sure. Even they confess the river may just return.
“Mr. Kamal Nath was here for a short while two-three months ago. He came, saw what was going on and left. I suppose he knows what he is doing”, says another executive.
The district administration pleads helplessness. Rivers and forest land, officials point out, are not under their jurisdiction. Only the Kullu conservator of forests or the district forest officer can intervene in this case.
But who is going to bell the country’s former Environment and Forests Minister?
Interestingly, a query faxed to Kamal Nath for his views on these developments fetched a reply from Mr. S. Mukerji, President of the Span Motels Private Limited.
Admitting that the Nath family had “business interests” in the company since 1981, he said, “the company is managed by a team of professional managers and Mr. Kamal Nath is not involved in the
management activity of the company.”
“The Board comprises professionals, some or whom are friends and relatives of the Nath family”, Mr. Mukerji said, He expressed surprise that a reference had been made to Rangri and Chakki villagers “since these villagers are at east 2/3 kilometers away and not even on the river side.”
He said the Span Club was not for the exclusive use of any one individual.” “We would like to emphasize that we are only `restoring the river’ to its original and natural course and are restoring our land and or those or neighbouring villagers similarly affected by the flood.”
He maintained that “Mr. Kamal Nath has definitely not been to Span Resorts in the last two months and in fact, to the best of my knowledge, has not traveled to the Kullu Valley for quite some time now….In any case, we had never “blocked” any channel in the vicinity of Span.”
Mr. Kamal Nath filed one-page counter affidavit dated June 8, 1996. Paras 1 and 3 of the counter area as under:- “I say that I have been wrongly arrayed as a respondent in the above petition in-as-much as I have no right, title or interest in the property known as “Span Resorts” owned by “Span Motels Private Limited”.
I further say that the allegations made in the press reports based on which this Hon’ble Court was pleased to issue notice are highly exaggerated, erroneous, mala fide, mischievous and have been published only to harm and malign the reputation of this respondent.”
On behalf of Span Motels Private Limited (the Mote), Mr. Banwari Lal Mathur, its Executive Director filed counter affidavit. Paras 2 and 3 of the counter are as under:- “I say that Mr. Kamal Nath who has been arrayed as respondent No.1 in the above writ petition has no right, title or interest in the property known as SPAN RESORTS owned by Span Motels Pvt. Ltd. or in the lands leased out to the said company by the State of Himachal Pradesh.
I say that the shareholding of SPAN MOTELS PVT. LTD. is as under:
No. of % Share
Mrs. Leela Nath 32,560 42
EMC Projects Pvt.
Ltd. 14,700 19
Pvt.Ltd. 15,000 19
SHAKA Estate &
Finance Pvt. Ltd.15,000 19
Capt. Alok Chandola 250 01
It was not disputed before us by Mr. Harish Balve, learned counsel appearing for Mr. Kamal Nath that almost all the shares in the Motel are owned by the family of Mr. Kamal Nath. We do not wish to comment on the averment made on oath by Mr. Kamal Nath that he has “no right, title or interest in the property known as Span Resorts owned by Span Motels Private Limited”.
Mr. B.L. Mathur filed an additional counter affidavit dated July 30, 1996 on behalf of the Motel, The counter affidavit mentioned above states that Government land measuring 40 bighas 3 biswas situated along side Kullu- Manali Road on the bank of river Beas was granted on lease to the Motel for a period of 99 years with effect from October 1, 1972 to October 1, 2071. The lessee was granted permission to enter and occupy the said area for the purpose of putting up a motel and for installing ancillaries in due course as may be subsequently approved by the lessor. We may refer to paras 6 and 7 of the lease deed dated September 29, 1972 which are as under:-
“The Lessee shall not dig deep pits of trenches in the said land, which may lead to the danger or erosion and shall make good the Lessor defects caused by their acts or defaults within one month of notice by the Lessor.
In the event of said land being required by Lessor for any other purpose, whatsoever the Lessor will be entitled to terminate this lease at any time by giving six months notice in writing to the lessee and the lessee shall not be entitled to any compensation whatsoever on account of such termination.”
The current management (Shri Kamal Nath’s family) took over the Motel in the year 1981, fresh lease was signed on September 29, 1981. The new lease was for the same period from 1972 to 2071. Paras 4 and 5 of the additional affidavit are as under:-
“I say that the Motel commenced operations in 1975. There are over 800 trees in this area of 40 bighas. the motel has two clusters with 8 dwelling units of 3 rooms each. The rooms are nowhere near the river – the distance between the cluster or rooms and the beginning of the river basin is about 10 meters-actually the river is another 50 meters therefrom. Thus, the effective distance between the edge of the river and the cluster of rooms is 40 meters. I say that in the peak of the flood, the river did not come closer than 10 meters to the rooms