Darjeeling municipality ordered to demolish three high-rises

Violating building norms
Report by: 
15 Nov 2016

The sub-divisional magistrate has served a six-week notice to the Darjeeling municipality directing it to demolish three high-rise structures in the town area stating they were violating exising building norms. The order states the height of the three buildings were above 11.5 metres and hence pose a risk to life and property given the region's fragile build-up and vulnerability to seismic movements.

The order, dated October 28, 2016 and issued by SDO Avik Chatterjee, has specifically mentioned three buildings, one on on Nehru Road, another on Gandhi Road and the third in the premises of the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club. The height of all the three structures exceeds 11.5 metres, the permissible building height in the hills, says the notice.

“We received complaints about some high-rise constructions in the town area. In compliance, the SDO sadar initiated a case under Section 133 of the CrPC that amounts to conditional nuisance. A final report was brought out subsequently against three buildings found violating the West Bengal Municipality Building Rules,” explained Darjeeling district magistrate Anurag Srivastava today.

According to Srivastava, in spite of repeated requests, the municipality failed to submit a detailed report on the height it has sanctioned for structures and also the height for the ongoing  constructions. He said as there was no response from the municipality; the PWD department was engaged to measure the height of the three buildings.

The PWD found the building near Clubside on Gandhi Road to be 22 metres high. It is owned by Amit Agarwal of the Masani Group. The under-construction building on Nehru Road owned by T. Palzor is 14.80 metres tall, while the building in the premises of the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club - owned by Nudoop Bhutia, the proprietor of Darjeeling Resorts Private Limited - is 16.75 metres.

“The executive magistrate has directed the municipality chairman to demolish the portions exceeding the permissible height limit within six weeks from the date of issue of the order, as per law. The district administration will extend all help and support to the civic body,” said Srivastava, adding that the district administration has also written to the municipal affairs secretary to notify the Darjeeling municipality against permitting construction of structures that are above 11.5 metres in height in densely populated areas of Darjeeling town.

Darjeeling municipality chairman Amar Singh Rai confirmed of receiving the order from the district administration on November 12 and said he was looking into the legal implications. “The question here is whether the SDO can direct us as we are an autonomous body. It’s surprising that in spite of the existence of several buildings that are higher than 11.5 metres, notices have been served to only three. This smacks of political influence. Anyway, we are looking into the legal implications of the order,” he said. A team of legal experts would meet officials of the municipality affairs department in Kolkata soon, he added.

Rai was also of the opinion that with land not being available in Darjeeling and restrictions on horizontal constructions, the only option was high-rises. “Of course, we need to follow the building norms, but exceptions can be made for high-rise constructions by adhering to technicalities,” he said.

One of the owners of the buildings under the radar refused to say much although he acknowledged of having received the order to dismantle part of his structure, while the remaining two could not be contacted.