The Calcutta High Court has directed the CBI to investigate the construction of a multi-storey building on the heritage Tripura House premises in the heart of south Kolkata to unearth possible irregularities.
Justice Amrita Sinha also imposed a penalty of Rs 44 crore on the owner and developer of the building, with each being asked to pay Rs 22 crore, for felling a large number of trees within the premises.
The court on Thursday directed an investigation by the CBI to unearth possible irregularities involved in obtaining approval of the building plan proposal at a Grade I heritage property.
“The investigation will be carried out under strict supervision of the Regional Head, Central Bureau of Investigation,” Justice Sinha directed.
She directed the CBI to submit an investigation report in a sealed cover before the registrar general of the high court by June 20.
Tripura House situated in the upscale neighbourhood of Ballygunge Circular Road in south Kolkata is owned by the family of the erstwhile Maharajas of the northeastern state. Pradyot Deb Barman, son of the former Maharaja, currently heads the political party Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance or TIPRA or Tipra Motha, which recently swept the elections to the Tripura Tribal District Autonomous Council defeating BJP’s ally IPFT.
The court said on a perusal of the minutes of the meeting of the West Bengal Heritage Commission held on January 16, 2015, it appears that only its chairman Shuvaprasanna and the then mayor, KMC Sovan Chattopadhyay were present.
The judge said that the absence of the third member of the commission, the mayor of Howrah Municipal Corporation was recorded in the Minutes.
“The urgency in taking a decision on the said date in the absence of the third member cannot be countenanced at all,” the court observed.
Noting that an earlier proposal for amending the gradation status of the premises from 'I' to 'IIA' stood disapproved on August 11, 2014 by the Heritage Conservation Committee of KMC, the court said that there was hardly any pressing need to approve the plan proposal with such lightning speed within a span of only five months.
Noting that the newly constructed building has resulted in felling of a good number of trees in the area, the court said that as many as 22 flats were constructed on the heritage building compound.
Justice Sinha directed the owner as well as the developer to deposit Rs 1 crore each to the account of each of the 22 flats constructed, which means the owner is required to pay Rs 22 crore and the developer another Rs 22 crore, totalling Rs 44 crore.
The order came on a petition filed by flat owners of a 17-storeyed building ‘Shiromani’ at Ballygunge Circular Road alleging that a multi-storey building is proposed to be constructed on the driveway of the heritage Tripura House situated adjacent to it.
The petitioners contended that sanction of the plan for any new construction on the premises of Tripura House is in violation of the building rules of Kolkata Municipal Corporation as well as various laws relating to heritage building and other environmental norms.
It was stated by the petitioners that construction was being made by demolishing substantial part of the heritage structure of Tripura House.
Opposing the prayer, Kolkata Municipal Corporation claimed that it sanctioned the plan for a new building at the premises in accordance with the KMC Act, 1980.
Observing that this is a fit case where order of demolition of the new construction ought to have been passed, Justice Sinha said, "In usual course, the court would have passed order for demolition of the entire construction, but keeping in mind that the matter relates to a heritage building and the work of demolition may cause more harm than good to the heritage structure, the court exercises judicial restraint."
Justice Amrita Sinha said that the court is more than convinced that the initial decision of the Heritage Commission to approve the plan proposal for construction was bad and accordingly any steps taken further thereto do not have any legs to stand upon.
The court held in its order that parts of the heritage structure — the gate, portico, fountain, driveway, garden — had to be demolished for allowing the construction to be made.
“Firstly, permitting the heritage structure to be demolished and thereafter directing reconstruction is starkly contrary to conservation and preservation of the heritage structure. Instead of protecting the heritage structure, the same was permitted to be brought down to facilitate the new construction,” Justice Sinha observed.