Kerala HC: District Authority’s Limitations in Expanding ‘Landslide Prone Area’ Definition under Disaster Management Act 2005

Kerala HC Law Insider

LI Network

Published on: December 28, 2023 at 11:30 IST

In a recent ruling, the Kerala High Court has clarified that the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) lacks the authority to broaden the definition of a ‘landslide prone area’ without obtaining approval from the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).

Citing Section 31(2) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Court emphasized that any district-level plans formulated by DDMA must receive the explicit approval of the State Authority.

The case in question involved a petitioner whose application to change the occupancy status of his residence to a homestay in Wayanad was rejected by DDMA. The reason given was that the house fell within 500 meters of a high hazard zone, categorized as a ‘landslide prone area’ by DDMA.

Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas, while overturning the decision, highlighted that DDMA had extended the definition of ‘landslide prone area’ without seeking approval from the State Authority, a step mandated by Section 31(2) of the Disaster Management Act.

The petitioner argued that his property, as per the zonation map created by DDMA, was located in a safe zone where constructions were permitted. He contended that the change from residence to homestay did not involve any new construction and should not have been treated as such.

DDMA, on the other hand, maintained that the petitioner’s property was within 500 meters of the high hazard zone’s boundary, designating it as a ‘landslide prone area.’ The authority expressed concerns about regulating guests in the area during emergencies.

The Court considered the petitioner’s plea, emphasizing that the proposed change of occupancy did not entail new construction. It clarified that a homestay and a residential house both serve residential purposes, with the only distinction being commercial relevance.

The Court noted that both types of properties accommodate a limited number of individuals for residential purposes.

The judgment underscored that, as per Section 31(2) of the Disaster Management Act, DDMA’s district plan must align with the National Plan and State Plan and receive approval from SDMA.

The Court rejected the expansion of the ‘landslide prone area’ definition by DDMA to include areas within 500 meters of the high hazard zone, emphasizing that such an extension lacked legal validity without SDMA’s endorsement.

In conclusion, the Court allowed the writ petition, setting aside the Panchayat Secretary’s order rejecting the change of occupancy from residence to homestay.

The ruling serves as a reminder of the importance of adhering to statutory procedures and obtaining necessary approvals in disaster management-related decisions.

Case title: K Tony Thomas v Vythiri Grama Panchayath

Related Post