The scrapping of the Tata Camelot housing project near Sukhna Lake by the Supreme Court is a major win for the city of Chandigarh and an endorsement of the efforts to preserve its heritage character. The court ruled that the Rs 1,800-crore residential-cum-commercial complex at Kansal village of Punjab’s Mohali district violated environmental norms and would have caused damage to the lake and the wildlife sanctuary in the eco-sensitive zone. Constructions in the catchment area of the lake are already a cause for concern and the project would have led to unbridled urbanisation in the Shivalik foothills, where a lot of people have already purchased land with its attendant problems like noise pollution and waste discharge. The multi-storeyed towers would have altered the city’s skyline and distorted Le Corbusier’s vision, threatening the sacred area ‘north of Capitol Complex’, a major city landmark.
That the Union Territory status protects Chandigarh from haphazard growth in the realty sector is also evident. Punjab and Haryana that claim Chandigarh as their capital do not appear much concerned when it comes to protecting its character. Construction activity at Kansal and Saketri that politicians initiated or were involved points to it. The infrastructure in Chandigarh is already under pressure due to the tricity’s expansion, and projects like these would only make things worse.
What the loss of the UT tag would do to Chandigarh is anybody’s guess. The project faced the charge that it violated the Punjab New Capital (Periphery) Control Act, 1952, and was not authorised under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. That 95 Punjab MLAs cutting across party lines were beneficiaries points to indifference. Each MLA was to get supposedly Rs 82.5 lakh and a flat in lieu of 22 acres belonging to the MLAs’ Cooperative House Building Society. Ways will have to be thought of to take care of housing needs without damaging the ‘green capital of the country’. Chandigarh is not just another city but a concept. The apex court has prevented it from getting destroyed.
For The Tribune investigation series on the Tata Camelot project that was carried in 2010, click here