Calcutta, Aug. 20: The high court today put its seal of approval on a controversial housing project near Khoai in Santiniketan that residents said would ruin the environment of the university town.
Green-signalling the project promoted by Bengal Ambuja, a joint sector housing company, the division bench presided by acting chief justice A.N. Roy said: “While rest of India is progressing, Tagore’s dream place cannot lag...”
It added: “It is difficult to state how Rabindranath Tagore had visualised the development of the area. But, it is a fact that Santiniketan is gradually gaining popularity and the area should be developed for better tourism.”
The judges said the petitioners had failed to prove that a housing project in the vicinity of Khoai, a landscape created by rain, would affect the serenity of Santiniketan.
The verdict came as a shot in the arm for Lok Sabha Speaker and chairman of Sreeniketan-Santiniketan Development Authority Somnath Chatterjee, who had invited entrepreneurs to develop areas around Visva-Bharati University.
Sushanta Tagore, a member of the Tagore family, and 22 others, including critic Chidananda Dasgupta, painter Jogen Chowdhury and actor Soumitra Chatterjee, had opposed the authority’s policy and alleged that the tranquillity of the idyllic town and the natural beauty of Khoai were being disturbed by so-called development work. The area, they had demanded, be preserved as a heritage site.
The petitioners also contended that the authority’s decision would prevent Visva-Bharati from exercising its powers within its territorial jurisdiction. They also said that the university’s classes, often conducted near the Khoai, would be affected.
Lawyers representing the petitioners sought court intervention and an order to prevent the alteration of the landscape into a “concrete jungle”.
The lawyer for the development authority said Khoai could not be a heritage site as natural drainage channels were common in Birbhum district. The university environment will not be affected, he told the court.
The movement led by novelist and social activist Mahasweta Devi against the authority’s decision to allow construction of an amusement park near Laha Bandh in Santiniketan will receive a jolt in the wake of the court’s observations on development of the town as a tourist hub.
Environment activist Subhas Dutta told the court today that he was not opposed to development in Santiniketan without damaging its ecology.