SC orders status quo on Patna HC order directing demolition of ‘proposed Waqf Bhawan’

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered status quo on the Patna High Court’s order directing demolition of a “proposed Waqf Bhawan” building constructed “in close proximity…of the newly inaugurated Centenary Building” of the HC in “brazen violation” of the provisions of The Waqf Act, 1995; Bihar Municipal Act, 2007; and Bihar Building By-Laws, 2014.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice U U Lalit issued notice on petitions filed by the Bihar State Sunni Waqf Board, Bihar State Building Construction Corporation (BSBCC) and the State of Bihar.

The court will now hear the matter on October 18.

The HC had on August 3 directed demolition of the structure after finding that it was constructed without a valid sanction plan approved by a ‘government architect’. “Such construction made without a valid sanction plan must thus be held to be an illegality rather than a mere irregularity,” the court held.

The HC also concluded that no approvals were taken from Parna Municipal Corporation for the building.

In its appeal, the Waqf Board contended that the project was undertaken in consonance with the Wakf Act, 1995 and was approved by a government architect. It pointed out that according to bylaw no. 8(1) (A) of the Bihar Building Bylaws, no permission was necessary from Patna Municipal Corporation for the works carried out by the state government department/Bihar State Housing Board, if the plans are signed by government architect.

“In the present case, the construction plans were approved by the Minority Welfare Department, Government of Bihar, and the Map and Plan of construction was approved by the senior architect of the Bihar State Building Construction Corporation, which is a government company,” the Waqf Board contended. “Therefore, the construction having been carried out by the state department and the plan having been approved by the senior architect of Bihar State Building Construction Corporation, no separate sanction was required from the Patna Municipal Corporation.”

On the High Court finding that the construction had violated bylaw no. 21, which “stipulates an unexceptionable and absolute embargo upon construction of any building exceeding 10 meters in height within 200 meters radius of the boundary of important buildings including the High Court”, the Waqf Board pointed out that state authorities as well as the Board “had themselves agreed to demolish the offending portion of the building (i.e. to bring the building within the height of 10 meters)”.

The building is about 40-42 feet in height.

While the HC was seized of the matter, a meeting held under Bihar Chief Secretary had agreed, among others, to limit the height of the building to 10 metres, to screen the boundary towards the High Court with steel/alloy sheet and not to use the premises for “musafirkhana”.

This was then presented to the HC, which however rejected it, saying it was “too late in the day for damage control”. The HC said, “the respondents have collectively undermined the statutory provisions with complete abandon and lack of accountability far beyond the limits of mere negligence.”

The HC had said that the land on which the building stood had been used as a qabristan and dargah since time immemorial and that “no material or document has been brought before us to indicate that the nature of the land was ever changed to allow construction of building of the nature proposed”.

Contrary to the Waqf Act, which empowers the Board to execute development work from Waqf funds or from finances which may be raised on the security of the properties of the Waqf concerned, the building in question was constructed using funds released by the Bihar State Minority Welfare Department, it said.

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