Nirmal Singh's family continues construction near Army depot; lawyer says no ban by HC

JAMMU: Construction of a building by senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh's family near an Army depot in the city's outskirts is near completion, despite the Jammu and Kashmir High Court directing them last year to maintain status quo at the disputed site, officials said.

Singh's lawyer R K Gupta said there was no stay on construction activity by any of the residents of the area.

"The court has only directed the implementation of the notification issued in 2015 is in accordance with the law and the act," he said, adding that the notification is not valid in terms of provisions and cannot be implemented.

The high court on May 7 last year had asked them to maintain status quo until final disposition of an Army plea which has claimed that the building was in violation of laid down norms.

The high court, while hearing a contempt petition, had asked various departments of the state to file their replies and had directed state authorities to "ensure" that the August 2015 order is "strictly implemented with all provisions of law/rules and no unlawful/impermissible activity in the area is permitted".

The 2015 order was clear that "no variation shall be made in the ground level and on building, wall, bank or other construction....erected, added to or altered otherwise that with the written approval of the General officer in Commanding..."

"No wood, earth, stone, brick, gravel and or other material shall be stacked, stored or otherwise accumulated" and the order was applicable to all those living 1000 yards of the ammunition point at village ban.

It said that any violation "shall be dealt with by the local Army commander under law and no compensation in respect of removal of such unauthorised structures shall be payable to the owners."

However, a palatial building is nearing completion in Ban village despite the order, the officials said.

Raising security and safety concerns in view of the building's proximity to an ammunition depot, the Centre had filed two petitions before the high court, but are still awaiting a proper hearing a year later.

Construction work on the plot had started in 2017 prompting the Army to send a communication to Singh, who was the then deputy chief minister in the PDP-BJP coalition government, asking him to stop the activity as it was in "violation of the Works of Defence Act (WoDA) 1903" which bars any construction activity upto 1000 yards (914 metres approx).

The construction activity falls nearly 581 yards (531 metres approx) from the boundary of the depot.

A contempt notice was moved by the central government in 2018 against Nirmal Singh's wife Mamta Singh for allegedly violating a 2015 order of the then deputy commissioner of Jammu Simrandeep Singh in which the Army depot was notified by the state government.

The Defence Ministry had filed a writ petition on May 3, 2018 when the local administration and police failed to implement the 2015 order.

Despite the high court's order for strict implementation of the order of the deputy commissioner, the construction work continued unabated prompting the Centre to move a contempt petition on May 16, 2018.

Officials in the Defence Ministry said that in view of the recent terrorist action at Pulwama as well as the earlier terrorist attack at Nagrota in November 2016, concerns regarding security of such sensitive defence installations have always assumed importance.

Guidelines such as the Works of Defence Act are meant to deter such threats as well as cater for the safety of the civilians residing in the vicinity. However, such construction activity reduces the open area for surveillance and monitoring by the Army too.

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PTI