Court also directs officials to consider arresting footfalls and vehicular traffic

The Madras High Court on Wednesday, September 15, 2021, ordered that no new permission should be granted for home stays in Nilgiris district without conducting a scientific study regarding the impact on the fragile ecology of the hill station due to such mushrooming accommodation facilities.

Also read: It’s imperative to not allow an inch of forest land to be encroached: Madras HC

Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu also directed the district authorities concerned to conduct an inspection across the district and ensure that no residential building continues to function as a home stay without having obtained necessary permission.

Though there may not be a law governing the matter, a scheme must be put in place to regulate such home stays since using residential accommodation for commercial purposes, without necessary permission, would by itself be against law, the first Division Bench pointed out.

The court said it had become a fashion for people to spend weekends and holidays in hill stations and such move had led to numerous residential buildings having been converted into home stays. It pointed out that there were several advertisements on the Internet regarding such home stays.

Curb traffic on upper levels

The Bench also directed the district administration to consider curbing vehicular traffic and keeping the upper levels of the hill station free from vehicles using fossil fuels. “At the end of the day there has to be intent and a desire to protect whatever remains of nature,” the Chief Justice wrote.

He also remarked that tourists were the biggest polluters and that the toxic fumes from the motor vehicles cause much damage to the ecologically delicate region. He directed the officials to consider arresting the footfalls as well as vehicular traffic right during the coming vacation season in a month or so.

The interim orders were passed on a public interest litigation petition filed by activist ‘Elephant’ G. Rajendran to restrain the Nilgiris Collector from regularising residential buildings that had been exploited commercially as resorts and short homestay without any licence.

The litigant pointed out that Nilgiris district had been a home to numerous illegal activities. He recalled to have filed a writ petition in the High Court in 2007 to prevent illegal mining of blue metal from the hill station and its illegal transportation to Kerala and Karnataka.

Pursuant to court orders, the then Collector swung into action and seized several trucks and stopped illegal quarrying. A police inquiry too found existence of as many as 108 illegal quarries in the dense forest and arrested many people involved in the crime.

Illegal resorts

Subsequently, he filed cases against buildings constructed without planning permission in Udhagamandalam and it revealed existence of 3,461 unauthorised buildings in the hill station. He had also filed cases for restoration of elephant corridors after evicting the encroachers.

The litigant said that in January this year, an elephant died due to burn injuries in Nilgiris after some resort employees threw a burning tyre on it to prevent the pachyderm from entering the resort. After, the incident, the district administration sealed many resorts that were functioning illegally.

However, now having learnt that the district administration and Masinagudi village panchayat had decided to regularise those resorts, the petitioner urged the court to restrain the officials from resorting to any such move.

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