Jaipur: The Supreme Court has given its nod to the controversial Jal Mahal tourism development project near Jaipur's Mansagar Lake with certain modifications in the 2005 lease deed. The 2005 lease deed was executed by the state government and scrapped by the Rajasthan High Court in 2012.
A bench of justices Gyan Sudha Misra and Pinaki Chandra Ghose last month set aside the High Court verdict cancelling the multi-crore rupees Jal Mahal tourism development project adjoining the 17th century lake.
It, however, reduced the lease period for from 99 to 30 years and said that a certain portion of the leased out 100- acre land will be kept aside to be under the control of the state government as it formed part of the adjoining lake. It also said no construction shall be carried out on around 14 acre of the leased out plot.
The Rajasthan High Court, on May 17, 2012, had cancelled the government lease accorded in 2005 in favour of Jal Mahal
Resorts Pvt Ltd. The lease deed, which was initially meant for 60 years, was later extended for a period of 99 years.
"In fact, we have noted that when the tender was floated for granting the lease deed, the maximum period for the lease deed as per the rules could not have been more than 30 years, yet the tender was floated for a period of 60 years, which was later extended to 99 years. This in our view could not have been done by the state government" the bench said, adding that it amounted to granting a perpetual lease deed.
"We set aside the period of lease which has been granted in favour of the lesse (Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd) for a period of 99 years and the same shall stand reduced to a period of 30 years only, which could be the maximum period of the lease for the land, under the rules," it said.
The court's decision came on an appeal filed by Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd challenging the High Court verdict canceling its lease. Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd was awarded the lease for 100 acres of land on the precincts of the Mansagar Lake for a period of 99 years in 2005 by the Rajasthan government at that time.
Earlier, the High Court had allowed the three Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by K P Sharma, Dharohar Bachao Samiti, Rajasthan and Heritage Preservation Society against the project.
The high court had directed immediate dismantling and removal of the entire project and diversion of the two drains, which was done to purify waters of a man-made artificial water body.
Setting aside the High Court verdict, the court asked Jal Mahal Resorts Private Limited to "forthwith" re-start its work. The first phase of the project has been completed since February 2011 and it is directed that the completion certificate and the lease agreement for the first phase be issued expeditiously but not later than a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order, it said.
Rajasthan government, which initially had challenged the High Court verdict, later chose to withdraw its appeals. The court, which reduced the lease period from 99 to 30 years, however gave the relief to the private firm saying the time wasted in litigation will not be counted in the reduced lease period of 30 years.
The lease shall now be counted from the date of this verdict, it clarified. Out of the 100 acres leased out land, an area of 8.65 acres shall not form part of the lease hold area as it is part of the lake bed area as per revenue records, which is recorded as 'gairmumkin talab' (lake bed area) and it shall be within the control and domain of the state government which will be free to reconvert it into the lake area, it said.
Out of remaining land, 14.15 acres, recorded as 'banjar' (barren land), shall be "notionally" treated as part of the leased plot but will remain as a construction free zone, it said, adding that this area be used as a walk way.
The bench also questioned the delay of five to six years in the filing of PILs. "It does not wish to be misunderstood, so as to infer that howsoever gross or abusive may be an administrative action or a decision, which is writ large on a particular activity at the instance of the state or any other authority connected with it, the court, should remain a passive, inactive and a silent spectator.
"What is sought to be emphasised is that there has to be a boundary line or the proverbial 'laxman rekha' while examining the correctness of an administrative decision taken by the state or a central authority after due deliberation and diligence, which do not reflect arbitrariness or illegality in its decision and execution," the bench said.