The Public Interest Litigation for the protection of Varanasi heritage

If you want to read the Orders given by the Allahabad High Court in the Public Interest Litigation (# 31229 of 2005) filed by the Kautilya Society,  please visit our page where the Allahabad High Court Orders are posted.

 

As part of its project of contributing in protecting the heritage of Varanasi , the Kautilya Society filed a Public Interest Litigation against the Varanasi Development Authority

Timeline

Year 2000. The U.P. State Government Order of 2000 prohibits constructions within 200 metres from the River Ganga and the National Monument Act of 1959 prohibits constructions within 300 metre radius of an ASI protected monument. The Ganga riverfront ghats in Varanasi are a unique ensemble of architectural and cultural heritage that is not only symbolizes Indian culture but is also a unique treasure of humanity. Despite this order, new constructions have been rampantly coming up along the Ganga riverfront ghats of Varanasi since the year 2000, completely destroying the skyline of the ghats and breaking the harmony of the 18th and 19th century palaces and buildings that flank the Ganga riverfront. And the VDA has been turning a blind eye right since the year of the Government order, the year 2000, because it is hand in glove with the owners of the illegal buildings

In the Year 2005, some Government officers and local leaders suggested that the KS file a PIL, i.e. Public Interest Litigation suit.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is an instrument available in India that enables persons and organisations to sue Governments and Public Agencies for not fulfilling their responsibilities and causing damage to the public.,.[28][29]

The KS accepted the invitation and filed a PIL (PIL 31229 of 2005) against the Varanasi Development Authority for negligence in supervising the enforcement of heritage protection laws and for turning a blind eye to illegal constructions that were mushrooming in the prohibited zones (that are within 200 metres from the Ganges and within a 300 metre radius of ASI, i.e. Archaeological Survey of India protected monuments).

In order to get information on unauthorised constructions and activities sanctioned by local authorities, the KS made extensive use of the Right to Information Act, a tool by which any citizen or organisation can request information from a public authority that in turn is obliged to give a written reply within thirty day. This Act allowed the Kautilya Society to collect evidence on the negligence of the U.P. Government regarding its activities and local implementation of policies, plans and legislation.

Year 2012 – 2013. And after years of appealing in the High Court of Allahabad, the special judge bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon, constituted especially for cases concerning the protection of the River Ganga, its river banks and its river basin, is finally giving justice to the Kautilya Society. The Allahabad High Court, through its Order of 9 October 2013, instructed the VDA to speed up the resolution on illegal construction cases pending in lower courts and to carry out its declared plan of demolishing the structures that VDA itself listed as illegal.

Darbhanga place in Varanasi - before demolition (2002), after new construction (2011)

As the PIL continues, there is undoubtedly a noticeable sharp decline in new illegal constructions in the heritage zone of Varanasi and ample public debate has taken place on the kinds of laws that should be designed and enforced in Varanasi in order to balance heritage protection and economic development. The KS has also appealed that the High Court instruct the local authorities to constitute a Heritage Conservation Committee that develops guidelines and plans for the heritage zone and proposes relevant modifications in existing laws.

The local community is increasingly demanding that it is consulted on programmes and plans for its city and that the VDA, the Varanasi Municipal Authority and other government agencies respect the needs and hopes of local residents and listen to the people’s voices brought across by civil society organisations. The press too increasingly demands that existing laws be equally imposed upon all stakeholders and not only on those that don’t have enough resources to obtain privileged treatments. And that if there is a need to change existing laws, that these are changed equally for all and that communities are involved in policy making.

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