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The Supreme Court has said that construction of buildings in the vicinity of a protected monument could only be permitted in “exceptional” circumstances if public interest was involved.

The court said renovation of existing buildings near monuments only meant repair and not razing them and putting up new ones.

The permission to construct buildings in the vicinity of protected monuments could only be given in “exceptional” circumstances provided public interest was “core” to it (making such exception), said the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly, in a recent judgment.

“The term ‘renovation’ appearing in Section 20 C [of the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Declaration of National Importance) Act, 1951] will take its colour from the word ‘repair’ appearing in that section,” the court said.

Section 20 C of the act says that for repair or renovation of any building existing in the prohibited area before June 16, 1992, or which came up subsequently an application has to be made for permission before the competent authority.

Justice Singhvi said: “This would mean that in the garb of renovation, the owner of building cannot demolish the existing structures and raise a new one and competent authority cannot grant permission for such reconstruction.”

The court said, in its Jan 16 judgment, that while granting permission in exceptional cases for undertaking construction in public interest in the vicinity of protected monuments, care had to be taken that such construction “does not have a substantial adverse impact on preservation, safety, security of, or access to the protected monuments or its immediate surroundings”.

The court said that permission in exceptional cases must be in public interest and not to facilitate the private interest. “This would necessarily imply that ‘such other work or project’ must be in larger public interest in contrast to private interest.”

“In other words, in exercise of power under Section 20A(3) the central government or the director general (of ASI) cannot pass an order by employing the stock of words and phrases used in the section and permit any construction by private person dehors public interest.”

“Public interest must be the core factor to be considered by the government or the director general before allowing any construction and in no case the construction should be allowed if the same adversely affects the ancient and historical monuments or archaeological sites,” the court said.

The apex court said this while setting aside a Delhi High court order directing the central government to review its June 16, 1992, notification that prohibited any construction within 100 metre from the boundary wall of a protected monument.

The case reached the apex court over litigation related to a plot on Janpath Lane in New Delhi, close to the historical Jantar Mantar



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