Banning construction activity in Kasauli till further orders, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has formed a special expert committee to study the impact of construction activity on the environment and ecology of the hill town. The ban on construction both in civilian and cantonment areas will stay till the committee submits its report and tribunal passes any further order.

The order was passed by the tribunal's principal bench headed by its chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar while disposing off an application filed by Society for Preservation of Kasauli and its Environs (Spoke) for the protection of Kasauli environs from construction activity.

In its application, Spoke had requested restrain on the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) from building a 42-room hotel-cum-national museum, geopark-cum-restaurant, conference hall, reception centre and park at the old site of Roscommon Annexe on Khetarpal Marg Kasauli. The applicant also emphasized that the proposed hotel would jeopardise the ecology of Kasauli town and further lead to water scarcity, felling of green trees, air, noise pollution due to vehicles and congestion of roads.

In its recent judgment, the tribunal said that Kasauli hills are part of Himalayan range which is considered to be geologically weak, eco-sensitive and fragile. Thus their protection has to be given a priority in terms of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986. It set up a special expert committee with dual assignment of assessing the effect on environment and ecology due to the project in question and activities in Kasauli at large.

The committee shall include an ecology expert from GB Pant Institute, Almora in Uttrakhand, chief town planner of Shimla or senior architect (planner) from PWD, a senior scientist from the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC), secretary, MoEF& CC, a senior scientist from the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, senior scientist from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, scientist/senior official from the Central Ground Water Board, New Delhi, scientist/senior official from Central Pollution Control Board while member secretary, Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board shall be a member and nodal officer who shall ensure the compliance.

The committee shall make an assessment of the carrying capacity of Kasauli town in terms of tourist inflow, vehicular traffic in sync with road infrastructure, general scarcity of underground water, availability of drinking water in the town and overall impact on the air quality and biodiversity of the area.

It said that committee should also assess as to whether the project in question could be continued in the present form or further restrictions need to be imposed. It said that committee shall also make assessment and submit report as to whether construction in Kasauli town be permitted or whether any restrictions need to be imposed, if so, the nature of restrictions which are to be laid down, keeping in view the seismicity and geophysical setting.

Tribunal said that report of the committee shall include the present situation of Kasauli in respect of environment, ecology, forest, sewage system, water supply, collection and disposal of municipal solid waste and the carrying capacity as well as the strength of the hills.

It also directed the Cantonment Board not to grant any permission for construction till the report of the Special Expert Committee is received and orders passed thereafter by Tribunal.

Situated at a height of 1927 meters above mean sea level, Kasauli is a cantonment area and a town located in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh. This cantonment was established during the time of British Raj in 1842 as a hill station and is 65 KM from Chandigarh.

Source: March 22, 2017, The Times of India