'Contains Dense Forests, Can't Uproot Trees To Make New Building': Uttarakhand HC Declines To Accept State's Allocation Of Land For New HC Complex In Haldwani

Chambers of Ishaan Garg

Ch. No. 217, Western Wing, District & Sessions Court, Tis Hazari, New Delhi, Delhi 110054

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In an interesting development, the Uttarakhand High Court has declined to accept the land identified and allocated by the State Government for construction of a new High Court building in Haldwani as almost 75% of the land is covered with trees.

While taking cognizance of the matter, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Ritu Bahri and Justice Rakesh Thapliyal observed –

After thorough examination, what State Authorities realise that land identified at Golapur at Haldwani, measuring about 26 hectares is surrounded by dense forest, which is 75% of the land earmarked for the establishment of the High Court. So this Court does not want to uproot any of the trees to make a new High Court.”

The Court was hearing a special appeal filed by the State Government, which was earlier listed for hearing on 21st May 2024. However, taking into account the fact that the Apex Court has taken cognizance of Uttarakhand's forest fire issue, the Court decided prepone the hearing.

On 15.09.2022, the Full Court of the High Court passed a resolution recommending to shift the High Court building from Nainital to Haldwani. After the passing of the said resolution, the State Government started a process for identifying suitable land for the new High Court building and accordingly, delineated 26 hectares of land in Golapur, Haldwani.

It was found that 75% of the demarcated land was covered with dense forest. Therefore, taking into account the effect of deforestation to the ecology, the Court decided not to accept the said land and accordingly observed:

“Keeping in view the above steps taken by the Supreme Court, we are informing the Chief Secretary that 26 hectares of land has been offered to the High Court at Golapar in Haldwani for making the new High Court. Out of this 26 hectares of land, 75% of land is full of trees. So the Court does not want to uproot any of the tree to make a new High Court. Keeping in view the above fact, we are not using that land.”

The Court, however, noted that the sanctioned strength of the High Court was merely three (3) when it was created. But in the last two decades, the strength has gone up to eleven (3) judges.

“For in the next 50 years, the strength is likely to go at least eight times. So within next 50 years, we need land for 80 Judges, So, we are giving direction to the Chief Secretary to apply her mind to the above directions.”

The Court also noted that presently the High Court is situated at Nainital which is a remote city, connected to the rest of the world through only road ways. It also highlighted that the city is famous for tourism and because of influx of tourists, the city becomes highly expensive during peak tourist seasons.

Furthermore, it also observed that more than 1200 lawyers are currently practising before the High Court and almost 400 lawyers are young lawyers. They find it difficult to afford an affordable accommodation and office in the city. There is also lack of proper medical facilities in the city, the Court underlined.

Apart from this, the poor litigants cannot afford expenses towards their visit to Nainital, even for some time, they cannot bear the counsel's fee. Certainly, the Courts are meant for litigants to get easy and accessible justice, therefore, their grievances, problems and hardships are required to be considered,” it added.

Keeping in view the larger public interest, hardships faced by litigants and young lawyers, lack of medical facilities and connectivity and the fact that in more than 75% of the cases, State Government is a party and Government has to spend a huge amount on TA & DA, the Court held that shifting of High Court from Nainital is required.

Accordingly, for streamlining the process of shifting of the High Court to a new and suitable place, the Court directed the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand to locate the best suitable land for establishment of High Court, residential accommodation for Judges, Judicial Officers, Staff, Court Rooms, Conference Hall, Chambers for at least 7,000 lawyers, canteen, parking place, etc. and it has good medical facilities in the area and good connectivity. This aforesaid exercise was ordered to be completed by the Chief Secretary within a month and a report in that regard was directed to be placed before the Court by 07.06.2024.

Case Title: State of Uttarakhand v. Gulshan Bhanot & Ors. (2024 Himachal HC)