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Thursday, January 25, 2001

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Work on at NTR Gardens despite court orders

By K. Venkateshwarlu

HYDERABAD, JAN. 24. In what appears to be a brazen violation of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh orders to maintain status quo, work is going on at a frenetic pace at the NTR Gardens in the Hussainsagar lake area.

All through the day, construction workers can be seen working relentlessly on various components of the Rs.70-crore project spread over 55 acres. A large number of them can be seen working on nine-metre high fiberglass gopurams, fountain and plastic animals depicting Hindu mythological feature of Ocean churning, all forming the entrance plaza.

Some are busy working on a shopping complex with a pitched roof and glazed clay roof, where souvenirs and artifacts will be sold. At the far end of the garden, a group of workers lend finishing touches to a huge 15-metre high fiberglass tree having branches and platforms at various levels. Yet, another group works on a restaurant with nine fiberglass stationary cars with facility to have snacks and coffee in the cars surrounded by lawns.

In fact, no component of the works in progress has stopped though it is over a fortnight now since the High Court has given the status quo orders. When contacted, Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) officials feigned ignorance. The petitioners, who had contended that all these constructions coming in the lake area as defined by the HUDA itself, could only express surprise.

A Division Bench of the Court, comprising the Chief Justice, Mr. Satyabrata Sinha, and Mr. Justice B. Subhashan Reddy, had admitted a writ petition filed by the Forum for a Better Hyderabad and Samata, an NGO, challenging the action of the State Government to launch projects around the Hussainsagar lake and ordered status quo to be maintained regarding the water body. The order was modified to extend it to all the lakes in the State.

The petitioners - Capt. J. Rama Rao, representing the Forum, and Mr. R. Ravi of Samata - contended that the lake area had been subjected to encroachments by the announcement of the projects, though the HUDA had issued a notification in May last year, declaring that the water body as per the GSI maps must be kept away from any encroachments.

The petitioners further brought to the notice of the court that the Master Plan and Zonal Regulations on the land usage as declared by HUDA showed the area around the lake as `recreation zone' which must be kept away from all constructions for commercial or residential purposes. The proposed projects violated all these. Such large-scale projects could be cleared only after a public hearing and Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), they had complained.

The authorities were using poclains to fill the lake, they said, and recalled that the flash floods which had devastated the city recently were the result of shrinkage of the lake. The petitioners also submitted a certificate issued by the HUDA which showed that part of the land meant for the projects was in fact a `water body'.

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