High Court reserves verdict on pleas to preserve waterbodies spread across the State

‘Action must be taken against officials if encroachments crop up after eviction’

The Madras High Court on Thursday reserved verdict on a batch of public interest litigation petitions that complained of encroachment of various waterbodies across the State. The judgment was deferred after the State Government submitted details of all waterbodies and rough data of the indicative extent of encroachments upon them.

Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu told Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram and Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran that after having identified all the waterbodies in the State, the government must commence the next exercise of evicting the encroachers and restoring the waterbodies. They said after the waterbodies were cleared of encroachments, the onus of keeping them safe and free of encroachments in the future should be on the officials concerned.

If encroachments crop up again, those responsible would be subjected to disciplinary proceedings and even suspended from service, if necessary.

Earlier, a group of lawyers complained to the court that details of all waterbodies across the State were not available freely on the Tamil Nilam website.

They said the general public would be able to check the details on the website only with details such as survey number and sub-division, which not everyone might be aware of. However, the judges said the locals would certainly be in the know of such details regarding the waterbodies in their vicinity, and they could easily check the status from the website.

They pointed out that the government had submitted a compact disc in court containing details of all waterbodies with their names, survey numbers and extent.

In his status report, Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu stated that an in-depth exercise had been carried out on a war footing to update the list of encroachments on waterbodies. Based on the reports of Collectors, he submitted indicative data regarding the encroachments and stated that it would have to be reconciled with the departments concerned.

The rough data indicated that 10,556 acres of waterbody land was under encroachment for residential purpose, 1,500 acres had been occupied by commercial establishments and 32,024 acres under cultivation. Apart from these, government buildings had been constructed on 1,311 acres and 2,414 acres were under encroachment by others.

“The District Collectors ably assisted by the officers of Revenue, Water Resources, Municipal Administration and Rural Development departments have arranged for extensive field verification of every water body as classified in the revenue records and updated the list of encroachers,” the Chief Secretary said

Mr. Irai Anbu added that the Collectors would prioritise the eviction of encroachments from water courses which require prompt action.

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