Sunday, June 4, 2023

Haldwani eviction: Supreme Court stays eviction; issues notice to Uttarakhand government, Railways

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Staying the eviction of over 4000 families living on encroached government land adjoining Haldwani Railway Station, commonly called as Gaffur Basti, the Supreme Court on Thursday sought response from both the State of Uttarakhand, as well as the Indian Railways, on the matter.  

The decision was taken by the Bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Abhay S. Oka on a batch of special leave petitions filed against the Uttarakhand High Court verdict of December 20, 2022.

The Uttarakhand High Court had mandated an eviction drive from January 10 to vacate 29 acres of railway land in Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani, affecting around 50,000 people.

The Apex Court, taking exception to the High Court ordering removal of occupants within seven days, wondered how could people be evicted without rehabilitation, even if the land belonged to the Railways.

The top court of the county directed the Railways to handle the issue from a ‘humane angle’.

It further expressed displeasure at the High Court’s direction asking for the use of paramilitary forces to dispossess the occupants.

The Apex Court, after noting that the Railways needed the land for development, asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati to get details on whether the complete land was to be vested in the Railways or whether the State Government was claiming a part of the land. 
The Bench further directed the ASG to think of a workable arrangement, besides ensuring full rehabilitation of the affected occupants. It observed that 50,000 people cannot be uprooted in seven days.
Banning any new construction or development over the land in question, the top court of the country fixed February 7 as the next date of hearing in the case.
Earlier, the ASG had said during arguments that the State and the Railways had submitted that the land belonged to the Railways. She also said that several orders for eviction have been passed under the Public Premises Act.
Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate Prashant Bhushan had contended that the ex-parte orders were passed during the Covid-19 period.
ASG Bhati further submitted that the petitioners claim the land of their own and that they have not sought rehabilitation.

Representing some of the petitioners, Senior Advocate Dr. Colin Gonsalves argued that the possession of the land has remained with the petitioners even before the Independence and that they have been in possession of the government leases, which were executed in their favour.
The fact was verified by Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, who said that many petitioners had government leases executed in their favour. Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid stated that many properties were in “nazul” lands.

As per the petitioners, they were poor people, who have remained lawful residents of Mohalla Nai Basti, Haldwani district for more than 70 years.

They claimed that Uttarakhand High Court ordered summary eviction of people residing in more than 4000 houses, despite the fact that proceedings regarding the title of the residents were pending before the District Magistrate.

They said the names of local residents were entered in the municipal records of house tax register and that they have been paying house tax regularly for years.

The pleas said there were five government schools, one hospital and two overhead water tanks in the area. 

The land had witnessed long settled physical possession of the petitioners and their ancestors, some dating back to pre-Independence period, noted the pleas. The petitioners further said that they have been recognized by the State and its agencies and have been given gas and water connections and even Aadhaar card numbers, accepting their residential addresses.

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