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HC relief for drainage woes

File picture of flood at Acharya Vihar in Bhubaneswar during last year’s monsoon.

Cuttack/Bhubaneswar, March 13: Residents of Acharya Vihar in Bhubaneswar are now feeling relieved as Orissa High Court vacated a status quo order on encroachments on government land along the drainage channel No. 4.

This will help prevent waterlogging in the area during the rainy season.

As the present course of the channel in Acharya Vihar is very narrow and it passes through private plots, the civic authorities had planned to re-route the channel through the nearby government land so that the excess rainwater in the channel can be diverted easily.

The plan was prepared according to the comprehensive development plan (CDP) of the Bhubaneswar Development Authority. The CDP is a document that guides the city’s development.

Thirteen plot owners, who also encroached upon some government land through which the channel would have passed according to the plan, opposed to the move and moved court.

The renovation plan of the drainage channel under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) was also stalled as the case was pending before the court. The JNNURM funding for drainage renovation was funnelled through the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation.

However, as the municipal corporation is not equipped with the expertise to renovate drainage channels, drainage division, Cuttack under the water resources department was entrusted with the job at a cost of Rs 28.79 crore on February 25, 2011. But, there was no progress in the work near Acharya Vihar because of the pending court case.

Pradeep Dash, a private company employee who has been staying at Acharya Vihar for the last 10 years, said: “Renovation of the channel should start here at the earliest. As I am staying in the first house of the lane which gets waterlogged during the rain, I suffer the most. I hope the drainage division would start work immediately.”

Mahadeb Barik, another businessman who stays in the flood-prone lane, said: “In the past, there were instances of two-wheelers and even four-wheelers being washed away in the flow of excess floodwater. The diversion of the channel through the government land is a welcome move.”

The high court, however, ruled: “An encroacher has no right to claim for settlement of government land.”

It has also made it clear that “merely because in the past the government has settled the government land in favour of some encroachers, per se (by itself), does not confer any right on the petitioners (encroachers) to claim for settlement of the government land”.

Interestingly, 59 persons had also filed a counter petition seeking the court’s direction for construction of the channel according to the CDP. Advocate general Ashok Mohanty in his submission before the court described how waterlogging was affecting around 250 families of the locality during the rainy season. He also told the court that the status quo order was an impediment to the new construction plan for the channel.

Taking note of it, the court dismissed and disposed of the two petitions respectively on March 6. The division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Goel and Justice A.K. Rath observed: “Settling the government land in favour of the encroachers is just like rewarding a pickpocket. Construction of a drain is for a public purpose. The entire area is inundated during rainy season. To mitigate the hardship of the residents, the government have entrusted the construction to a contractor, but then due to the status quo order, only 540 metres have been left out.”

Executive engineer of drainage division (Cuttack) Pradip Duria was happy about the court verdict.

“Now, we will wait for the action of the civic body and the general administration department to remove the encroachment so that we can start our work.’’

The municipal corporation’s assistant commissioner (enforcement) Sumita Behera termed the verdict as “inspiring”. “We will co-ordinate with the general administration department to free the government land from encroachment as they are the owner of all government land in the city.”

Drainage channel No. 4 starts from Ekamrakanan at Jaydev Vihar and ends at Chakeisiani to meet Gangua nullah after travelling 9.77km across the city. It is the longest out of the 10 drainage channels in the city.