Underscoring the need for formulating a policy to preserve ecological balance and protect natural resources of the country, the Supreme Court has directed the government to cancel all the leases of plots at Jhilanja Mouza, an “ecologically critical area” in Cox’s Bazar, and to demolish the structures built in the area.
In the full text of a verdict, the apex court also ordered the authorities concerned of the government not to grant any lease further within Jhilanja Mouza or any area which has been classified as ecologically critical area (ECA).
The SC, however, asked the authorities to compensate the leaseholders for cancellation of the leases of lands and for the demolition of the structures.
“We, therefore, direct that all leases within Jhilanja Mouza granted after April 19, 1999 be cancelled in the same way as those of the writ-petitioners and any constructions made thereon be demolished. Of course, the leaseholders shall be compensated for their loss due to such cancellation/demolition. We further direct that henceforth no lease shall be granted within Jhilanja Mouza or any area which has been classified as ecologically critical area,” the top court said in the full text of the verdict which was released recently.
A seven-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain delivered a short verdict on December 9 last year after dismissing five separate review petitions and leave to appeal petitions filed by some leaseholders against its 2015 verdict.
The SC in its 2015 verdict upheld a High Court judgement that on July 22, 2010 (HC) had declared valid a government decision cancelling lease of 55 plots in Jhilanja Mouza in Cox’s Bazar.
In the full text of the verdict, the apex court bench said, “We finally re-iterate that the petitioners shall be fully compensated for their loss due to the cancellation of their leases, in accordance with the decision of the High Court Division”.
The apex court said there is no ambiguity about the notification issued on April 19, 1999, by which, among others, the Sea Beach from Cox’s Bazar to Teknaf, including Jhilanja Mouza, was included in the ECA and that was done to protect the natural and ecological balance of the areas in question.
“However, we hope that in the days and years to come the government will adhere to the policy of preservation of the ecological balance and protection of the natural resources of our country not only for our future generations but also to ensure the protection of the environment from degradation and the harmful effects of climate change. Certainly, this much we owe to our progeny.”
It would indeed be a travesty of justice if the petitioners having been deprived of their business opportunities, the plots are leased out to others for the purpose of construction and commercial development,” the SC said in the full text of verdict.
Contacted, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star today that the SC verdict will play an important role to help to preserve and protect the environment.
All the leases of plots in Jhilanja Mouza granted April 19, 1999 must be cancelled and the structures constructed thereon in the same area must be demolished in line with the SC directive, he added.
On July 22, 2010, the HC declared valid a government decision cancelling lease of 55 plots in an “ecologically critical area” in Cox’s Bazar. The HC delivered the verdict through rejecting 39 writ petitions challenging the legality of the government decision.
The previous Awami League government on April 19, 1999, declared Jhilanja Mouza on the seashore an ECA.
But the BNP-Jamaat alliance government in 2005 leased out 59 plots measuring around 73 acres in the Mouza, ignoring the April 19, 1999 gazette notification in this regard.
Of the lessees, only four followed the terms of the lease, and some sold away their plots and others are building structures on those defying the lease terms.
The AL-led government on January 12, 2010, cancelled lease of 55 plots. Owners of plots filed 39 writ petitions with the HC in the same month.