IS THE NEW TREND OF INSTALLING STATUE VIOLATING LAWS?

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‘Statue’ the new trend that is prevalent in India. The decisions to construct statues are mostly dominated by political desirability, which more or less violates the norms laid down by the law and also to a very large extent nullifies or invalidates the ecology along with urban planning.  This trend is synonyms with the concept of felicitation and it all started with the launch of the tallest statue in the world i.e. the “Statue of Unity, which is dedicated in the fond memory of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of Independent India. This statue will be followed by “Shiv Smarak” (dedicated to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) and the spree statues announced by the other State Governments.

There has been a lot of buzz regarding the money spent on the statues but a very little attention had been paid to the source of the decision behind building these statues. Both statutory laws along with judicial decisions have laid down detailed procedures which are to be taken into consideration before erecting any statue in India.

The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India divides the subject matter on which the Parliament and State Legislature are entitled to frame laws respectively. Entry 18 of the State List clearly mentions ‘Land’, through which it empowers the State Government to frame plans and policies concerning the same inclusive of constructions on the said land. These pronouncements have been upheld constantly by the Judiciary, as they have entrusted the ownership of all public lands in the hands of the respective State Governments. Since State Governments are entitled to make laws with respect to their territorial land which also includes building or installing statues different States have framed different laws to suit their needs and demands. The only common thing that is applicable to all States is the prior approval from the District Administration which is to be followed by the State Government’s approval (State Cabinet). However, it is to be noted that the decision of the State Government enjoys top priority. As for instance, the rules followed by the State of Andhra Pradesh are as follows:

  • A request is to be made to the District Administration/State Government for installing or building a statue.
  • After the approval from the State Government, the proposal is sent to the Municipal Corporations/Urban Development Authorities and other important authorities for their considerations based on which a clearance certificate is received.
  • Once the clearance certificate is received by the respective authorities the government may proceed with the installations.

The next question that arises is that of the location, which by default plays a pivotal role in the entire process. It should be noted that the State Governments do not have an excessive or uncontrolled power to choose or zero down on a place for installing statue, because there are mandatory rules and regulations which are to be taken into consideration while finalising the place.

The Judiciary has time and again stated that the authority of ownership of the States is backed by responsibility. It is the foremost duty of the States to work for the betterment and welfare of the public. This view was seconded by the Apex Court in its decision in Union of India vs the State of Gujarat, wherein it directed that the State Governments to not grant permissions to construct/install statues on public roads, pavements, sideways or other public utility places.  This decision of the Judiciary has been briefly expressed by Justice Agnihotri, “The decision to honour public personalities, artists of repute, etc., must not be at the cost of the public convenience. The public roads are nothing but public property. The roads are formed by acquiring land. The citizen is deprived of his land by the process of acquisition. The acquisition is justified in the larger public interest. The roads constructed after such acquisition is for public purpose. It is only for the welfare and betterment of public all such developmental activities are undertaken. The people should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of such development. The National Highways and State Highways constructed by acquiring private property and by using public funds can be used only for the travelling needs of the public. It cannot be converted for other collateral purposes like erection of statues and memorials.”[1]

Thus, the law clarifies that it is the decision of the State Government to install statues within their territory, subject to the approval from necessary authorities. As long as the above condition is duly followed the Courts adopt a non-interference policy and has given the monopoly to the State Government to decide who’s statue will be installed when and where.

 

Statues on Private Lands: The law of the land allows a citizen to install statues on their private property. The only condition is that it is the duty of the citizen to ensure the protection of the statue without causing any disturbances in the law and order.

This rule of erecting statues on private land is not applicable in the State of Maharashtra by virtue of a notification issued in 2017 by the General Administration Department. The notification clearly specifies that any citizen who wishes to install a statue on his private property is mandatorily required to obtained a no objection certificate from the respective police station guaranteeing that the prospective structure will not create any nuisance in the society with respect to law and order or in the form of any communal tension. Apart from this an additional requirement of the local residents not opposing the statue also needs to be fulfilled.

It is to be noted that the requirements are only applicable in the State of Maharashtra and not to the other parts of India.

 

The chaos that surrounds the Statue of Unity: The nation had never witnessed such a gigantic construction. Thus, the Statue of Unity had large scale implications which involved major questions relating to the environment, mainly because of its location, the place where the statue is situated near a wildlife sanctuary, the exact place where the statue stands is an indigenous land and this required resettling many endangered species. The Judiciary has stated that it is the sole responsibility and authority of the State Governments to decide on the construction of Statue, but it should be noted that when there is any construction on such a huge scale where the surrounding plays a major role, then in such situations the compliance of environmental laws are necessary.

The situations where the Statue of Unity falls short are as follows:

  • Violations of Environmental Laws:  in consonance with the notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, every major construction which is about to take place within 10km of protected area notified under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 is to be considered as a Category ‘A’ project, and it requires mandatory Environment Impact Assessment Report.

The Statue of Unity is situated merely 3.2 km away from the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, and thus making of an Environment Impact Assessment Report acts as a condition precedent. But in reality, no such was obtained or approved till date, which in itself is a major violation. Furthermore, the Report should contain details regarding the following:

  1. The full details about the presence of any protected species of flora and fauna if any?
  2. The importance of the area with regards to ecological reasons etc.

It should be noted that the Statue of Unity answers all the above questions in an affirmative manner, as the land is a home-ground to ‘Mugger’ Crocodiles which are notified to be endangered species and post construction the crocodiles were shifted from their land.

In addition, the Report should also contain the details with respect to the public consultations that were held prior so as to receive objections from the locals and the public at large. However, no such consultation and no such report was held and submitted respectively.

  • Violation of Judicial Precedents: The Statue of Unity has not only violated Statutory law but it has disrespected the Judicial decisions as well. The Courts have warned the State Governments against constructing structures which tend to affect the environment negatively or adversely. In Jagdev Singh v. the State of Haryana, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had quashed a Government project of building a statue of a political leader, as it required diversion of the water bodies.

The Courts here propounded that “we respect the sentiments of the village to honour a martyr… we direct the authorities to demarcate alternative land for the memorial”. Similarly, in the case of the Statue of Unity, the ecological balance was disturbed because of the shifting and diversions of crocodiles and flora and fauna respectively. The decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court does carry a persuasive value for the State of Gujarat, as the Judiciary has always considered the State’s to be the custodian of the environment of their respective territory and thus they are required to act as a Trustee’s. However, this view of the Judiciary seems to be disrespected in the present case.

 

  • As of today there are already many statues prevailing in the country and especially in the north and this trend does not seem to come to an end anytime soon. The Uttar Pradesh has recently announced a number a statue in the future which will no doubt overburden the pecuniary resources or public treasury. Justice Jagdeesan in Kannadasan vs. District Collector[2] had rightly observed that ‘the political leaders, as well as freedom fighters, can be remembered in a more respectable manner by having a memorial by way of community hall or a library in their name which may not create any problem for the public and at the same time it will be more useful and beneficial for them’. However, in reality, statues have become an easy mode to grab public places in the name of honouring the leaders, and under this respected veil, laws are being violated at a large scale. It should be remembered that by installing statues on public places does not serve the purpose of respecting the leaders, these places should be put in proper use in such manner which would actually benefit the public at large as for instance, playgrounds, government schools/hospitals, etc. As of now an Indian can only hope and wish that one day in the future political announcement will have rational backing and that ‘AACHE DIN AAENGE’.

 

 

 

[1] P.N. Srinivasan V. State Of Tamil Nadu, 2014 Scc Online Mad 159

[2] Aws(Mad)-2015-10-84, High Court of Madras, Decided On October 28,2015

 

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