Published on: 16 March 2023 at 19:38 IST
It is a matter of real happiness and also equally of immense significance to learn much to the satisfaction of one and all that for a far less developed state like Bihar when compared to other bigger states like Maharashtra and Karnataka we see that in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest oral judgment titled Nikhil Singh Vs Union of India & Ors in Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 1784 of 2023 (4) that was pronounced as recently as on February 27, 2023, the Patna High Court has directed all the District Magistrates (DMs) in the State to identify all the encroachments that were existing over the lands meant for total 31 airstrips of Bihar and take immediate steps for their removal.
It must be mentioned here that a Division Bench of Hon’ble The Acting Chief Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh and Hon’ble Mr Justice Madhuresh Prasad while hearing a batch of 30 PILs filed by Nikhil Singh, Rajiv Ranjan Singh and other persons minced just no words absolutely to hold unequivocally that, “As would be evident from the chart supplied by Dr KN Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General of India, most of the Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar are non-functional. It has emerged during the course of hearing of these matters that substantial unauthorized encroachments have been caused by the local inhabitants over the lands belonging to the State Government/AAI/MoD encroachments have been caused by the local inhabitants over the lands belonging to the State Government/AAI/MoD meant for the Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar. It has also emerged that such lands are not properly maintained and have remained uncared.”
It also directed the DMs, the nodal officers of Union Civil Aviation Ministry and Airport Authority of India (AAI) to take a comprehensive stand for maintenance and protection of all the 31 airstrips and airports in the State and identify the illegal encroachments caused on the lands meant for airports/airstrips in their respective jurisdictions and take immediate steps for removal of such encroachments. This must definitely be complied with as directed so very commendably by the Patna High Court just recently.
At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced oral judgment authored by Hon’ble The Acting Chief Justice Chakradhari Sharan Singh for a Division Bench of the Patna High Court comprising of himself and Hon’ble Mr Justice Madhuresh Prasad sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in the opening para that, “Dr. K.N. Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General of India, appearing on behalf of the respondent Union of India, has submitted a list of Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar in a tabular form, from which it transpires that out of 31 Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar, 21 are owned by the State Government, five belong to Ministry of Defence (hereinafter referred to as “MoD” and seven including two Civil Enclaves belong to Airport Authority of India (hereinafter referred to as “AAI”). As on date, there are three out of 31 Airports/Civil Enclaves which are operational for civil flights in the State of Bihar, all belonging to the AAI.”
To put things in perspective, the Division Bench then envisages in the next para of this remarkable judgment that, “He has informed this Court that the Airports/Civil Enclaves under the control of AAI are maintained by AAI. The non-operational airports at Raxaul, Muzaffarpur and Jogbani come under the control of AAI,”.
“He has also pointed out that AAI has constructed boundary walls at all the said airports at Raxaul, Muzaffarpur and Jogbani and AAI officials from Patna visit these airports from time to time to keep a check, and in case of necessity, assistance is taken from the district administration,”.
“He has also submitted that for the development of these three airports, AAI has made requests to the State Government to provide lands, which include 121 acres for Raxaul and 475 acres for Muzaffarpur. AAI has also proposed to develop Civil Enclave at Indian Air Force (hereinafter referred to as “IAF”) Airport at Purnea, which is under the stage of planning. As regards the development, operationalization of other Airports/Airstrips, 21 State Government Airports/Airstrips and three AAI Airports (at Raxaul, Muzaffarpur and Jogbani) have been included in UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) document. He has also submitted that no bids have been received from the airlines for the Airports/Airstrips other than Darbhanga, Gaya and Patna,”.
“He has pointed out that under UDAN 4.0 and 4.1, the State Government is required to sponsor routes between unserved and underserved Airports/Airstrips in that particular State. No route has been sponsored by the State Government under the said phases of UDAN,”.
“He has also pointed out that upon successful bidding under UDAN, if the State Government desires the airports to be maintained by the AAI, the State Government may sign Operation and Maintenance (O & M) agreement with the AAI.”
Briefly stated, the Division Bench states in the next para that, “For ready reference, we consider it apt to reproduce the tabular chart, in the present order which has been provided by Dr. K. N. Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General of India:-
“Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar
List of Airports / Airstrips in Bihar are as follows:
S. No Airport / Airstrip Operational Status
1 Darbhanga Operational
2 Gaya Operational
3 Patna (JPNI) Operational
4 Bihta Operational (IAF)
5 Purnea Operational (IAF)
6 Jogbani (Forbseganj) Non-Operational
7 Raxaul Non-Operational
8 Muzaffarpur Non-Operational
9 Hathua Non-Operational
10 Jehanabad Non-Operational
11 Arrah Non-Operational
12 Begusarai Non-Operational
13 Bettiah Non-Operational
14 Bhabua Non-Operational
15 Bhagalpur Non-Operational
16 Bihar Shariff Non-Operational
17 Birpur Non-Operational
18 Buxar Non-Operational
19 Chhapra Non-Operational
20 Dehri/Sura Non-Operational
21 Katihar Non-Operational
22 Kishanganj Non-Operational
23 Madhubani Non-Operational
24 Motihari Non-Operational
25 Munger Non-Operational
26 Naria Non-Operational
27 Panchanpur Non-Operational
28 Saharsa Non-Operational
29 Samastipur Non-Operational
30 Sitamari Non-Operational
31 Valmiki Nagar Non-Operational.”
Be it noted, the Division Bench then notes succinctly in the next para that, “Mr. P.K. Shahi, learned Advocate General, Bihar has filed a counter affidavit on behalf of the State of Bihar, sworn by the Officer on Special Duty, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of Bihar, Patna,”.
“He has submitted, with reference to the said counter affidavit that the State Government is focusing its efforts to develop airports at Patna, Bihta, Gaya, Darbhanga and Purnea. He has submitted that whereas Patna International Airport (J.P.N.I.A) serves 10 districts, namely, Patna (Bihta), Buxar, Bhojpur, Saran, Vaishali, Samastipur, Begusarai, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura and Arwal, the airport at Gaya serves nine districts, namely, Gaya, Kaimur, Rohtas, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Nawada, Nalanda, Jamui and Bhabhua. It has been stated in the counter affidavit that Purnea Airport would serve nine districts, namely, Purnea, Kishanganj, Araria, Madhepura, Katihar, Bhagalpur, Banka, Munger and Khagaria. Darbhanga Airport serves the districts of Darbhanga, West Champaran, East Champaran, Sitamarhi, Sheohar, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Siwan, Gopalganj and Bettiah,”.
“There is statement made in the affidavit that the said four airports cover almost all districts of Bihar and distance of most of the places from the aforesaid airports is not more than 100 K.M. It has also been stated in the counter affidavit that eight airports have been included under Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS)-UDAN of Ministry of Civil Aviation (hereinafter referred to as “MoCA”), namely, Darbhanga, Gaya, Purnea, Bhagalpur, Begusarai, Kishanganj, Balmikinagar and Muzaffarpur, out of which the airports at Darbhanga and Gaya are presently operational and for the rest of the six airports, no airline operator has shown interest. It has further been stated that if proposal comes from any airline(s), the State will consider for development of such airport(s) also.”
As it turned out, the Division Bench then points out in the next para of this refreshing judgment that, “What emerges from the counter affidavit, which has been filed on behalf of the State Government, is that the State Government is also of the view that there is requirement of an airport at Purnea. The length of runway of Purnea Airport is more than any other airport in the State of Bihar.”
As we see, the Division Bench then discloses in the next para that, “We have been made to understand that certain steps were taken for establishing an airport at Purnea.”
Most rationally, the Division Bench then hastens to add in the next para observing that, “Whether a particular place should have an airport or not, is a matter exclusively within the domain of the executive. The High Court exercising writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India does not normally interfere in such matters,”.
“However, since it is the stand of the State Government itself that there is proposal to have an airport at Purnea to cater the need of nine major districts of the State of Bihar, we expect the State Government to inform this Court as to what steps have so far been taken and what steps can be taken in future for having an airport at Purnea.”
Quite significantly, the Division Bench then observes in the next para that, “There is another aspect, which is also of serious concern. As would be evident from the chart supplied by Dr. K.N. Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General of India, most of the Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar are non-functional,”.
“It has emerged during the course of hearing of these matters that substantial unauthorized encroachments have been caused by the local inhabitants over the lands belonging to the State Government/AAI/MoD meant for the Airports/Airstrips in the State of Bihar. It has also emerged that such lands are not properly maintained and have remained uncared.”
Most significantly, we see that the Division Bench then mandates in the next para directing aptly that, “In the facts and circumstances of the case, as emerging from the submissions advanced at the Bar, we direct all the District Magistrates in the State of Bihar with the assistance of the AAI, MoD/concerned Defence Estate officials and Directorate of Civil Aviation, Government of Bihar to identify the illegal encroachments caused on the lands meant for airports/airstrips in their respective jurisdictions and take immediate steps for removal of such encroachments.”
What’s more, the Division Bench further adds in the next para holding that, “We further expect the AAI, Union of India and the State Government to make a comprehensive plan for maintenance of such airports/airstrips in the State of Bihar which are not operational and the lands have remained uncared because of their non-use.”
Finally, the Division Bench then concludes by directing in the last para that, “List these matters on 27.03.2023, at 2:15 P.M, when the respondents shall be required to inform this Court by way of affidavits disclosing the steps taken in the meanwhile, in light of the present order.”
In a nutshell, there can be no two views that what the Patna High Court has directed to all the DMs and the concerned authorities must be implemented at the earliest by identifying all the encroachments that are existing over the lands meant for total 31 airstrips and airports of Bihar and take immediate steps for their removal because they have to inform also the Court by March 27, 2023 the tangible steps taken in this direction.
It must also be ensured strictly that the lands are properly managed and taken care of as directed.