HC flags civic officials’ power to raze buildings without notice

Hyderabad: The Telangana High Court observed that the amended Telangana Municipalities Act, 2019, which allows the demolition of illegal constructions without giving notice to the owners, was a “draconian power” vested with municipal authorities.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A. Abhishek Reddy was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Mohan Chandra Parth-asarathy which challenged Section 178 (2) of the Telangana Municipalities Act, 2019.

The petitioner submitted that the principles of natural justice should be followed, and apprehended that the law may be misused.

Reminding the government of the Constitutional necessity that a person must be heard before taking any action against him or her, the bench said that the powers granted in the law fell foul of the rights guaranteed to a citizen under the Constitution i.e., the principles of natural justice.”

Chief Justice Chauhan said, “Even a hardcore dacoit cannot be hanged without a trial… Where is the fairness? The aspect of principles of natural justice has been totally ousted by the Telangana state government.”

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Putting up firm stand, Advocate-General B.S. Prasad reminded the court of its rebuke the other day, when it came down heavily on GHMC officials and other municipal authorities for not dealing firmly with those resorting to illegal constructions.

The Advocate-General said, “When the State has come up with a strong law, with an intent to keep the violators of law at bay, now the court is asking the State to follow principles of natural justice.” He also submitted that the Bombay Municipal Act had similar provisions.

Reacting immediately, the Chief Justice said, “We are aware of the fact that there are a lot of illegal constructions. At the same time, we are also equally aware of the arbitrary powers vested with the municipal authorities. Therefore, the question would be, do we place certain limitations on the exercise of powers.”

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He said that the amended law spoke about setting up the Municipal Building Tribunal to deal with issues of deviations from the rules and violations.

The High Court had been told several times that the tribunal would be constituted soon but it had not been done so far, the Chief Justice said.

The High Court also pointed out that the state was making constitutional and statutory bodies unfunctional by not appointing the posts.

The Advocate-General informed the bench that the rules have not yet been framed about the procedure to be followed up to act on deviations and assured the court that he will advise the state government to frame rules adhering to the observations of the court.

The hearing was adjourned to March 11.

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