Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bulldozer Injustice

The Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court declared that it has become fashionable for local bodies to tear down any house without complying with the principles of natural justice. Other states have also been guilty of such practices

The single-judge bench of Justice Vivek Rusia of the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court recently awarded a compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to two women who had filed a petition for compensation and disciplinary action after their houses were bulldozed by Ujjain Municipal Corporation. The Court stated that their houses were wrongly demolished by municipal authorities in Ujjain. 

The petitioner (Radha Langri) had purchased a house situated at Sandapani Nagar, Ujjain, and another house by registered sale deed, dated April 3, 2019, and July 16, 2020, respectively. Likewise, another petitioner (Vimla Gurjar) had purchased a house situated at EWS, Sandapani Nagar, Ujjain. According to the petitioners, they were served two notices before the demolition of their houses and given one day’s time to submit the reply.

On December 12, 2022, the petitioners approached the civil court by filing an application under Section 94 of Civil Procedure Code, 1908, in which status quo was granted on the same day. According to the petitioners, on December 13, 2022, the Municipal Corporation of Ujjain demolished their houses without giving any notice. 

The Court granted interim protection to the petitioners as per order dated January 10, 2023. Thereafter, the Corporation filed the reply describing the powers of demolition under Sections 293 and 294 of the MP Municipal Corporation Act, 1956, and protection from payment of compensation under Section 306 of the Act.

According to the Corporation, the EWS houses, Sandipani Nagar, Ujjain, were raised in violation of the provisions of the Municipal Corporation Act. The Corporation further said that the notice, dated October 12, 2022, was served by way of affixture and no reply was filed for two months. Therefore, no option was left, but to issue a notice under Sections 307 and 406 of the Act. 

The Corporation also said that the names of the petitioners were not recorded as owners of the houses, which were raised contrary to the building permission and were an encroachment on the MOS area. Therefore, the notice under Section 307 of the Act of 1956 was served. By the order, dated January 25, 2024, the Court directed the Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Ujjain, to examine the record and submit an explanation before the Court. 

An affidavit filed by the Commissioner, who joined on December 31, 2023, as the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation, Ujjain, submitted that regarding the house situated at EWS, Sandipani Nagar, there was no record of building permission and the name of Rahisa Bi was recorded as an owner. An on-the-spot inspection was carried out and information was received that the house was purchased by Parvez Khan from Rahisa Bi. Likewise, other houses situated at EWS, Sandipani, Nagar, Ujjain, were also not recorded in the names of the petitioners in the revenue record.

The Court observed that Mouka Panchnama is a concocted document that was prepared in the house without going to the spot. Therefore, the demolition of the houses by serving a notice to a fictitious person Parvez Khan is a highly illegal and arbitrary action for which disciplinary action is liable to be taken against the concerned officers and employees.

The Court said that nowadays, all information about ownership of the property is available in the office of the Sub-Registrar as well as in the Municipal Corporation. The Commissioner had conveniently avoided giving an explanation about the details of the deposit of property tax on the ground that the server was down. The information in the server is made available for the public, but the Municipal Corporation has a physical record of payment of property tax. This could have been verified from the record as to who is depositing the property tax of this house. Despite that, there is no mutation in the name of the petitioners, but the fact remains that the name of Rahisa Bi is recorded as the owner even though she has not been served any notice before demolition, otherwise she would have informed the employees of Municipal Corporation that the house had been sold to the petitioners.

The Court further observed that likewise in the case of another house—for which the information was obtained from the local public that it belongs to Uma Jatav—the petitioner had actually purchased the house. In this case also in a very casual manner, the panchnama was prepared and notice was issued in the name of Uma for which there was no acknowledgment. Only the notice was affixed to the house and the demolition was started in a very arbitrary manner.

The Court further observed that in this case also the criminal case was registered against one of the family members of the petitioners and demolition activities were carried out. It is not the case of the respondent that in the entire area under the Municipal Corporation Ujjain, these are the only two houses that were constructed without permission to be demolished. Admittedly, these petitioners purchased the constructed houses, not the open land. And if there was no permission then there is a provision of compounding also for which the specific rules have been framed by the state government. Instead of demolishing, they should have been called upon to get their construction regularised.

The Court further said that it is correct that no person has a right to construct the house without building permission or if the building permission is there then no construction is permissible in the MOS area. In either case, demolition should be the last recourse to be followed that too after giving a proper opportunity to the owner of the house to get it regularised. 

The Court ordered compensation of Rs 1 lakh each to be paid to the two petitioners for the illegal demolition of their houses without giving an opportunity of hearing. The Court also directed the Commissioner, Municipal Corporation to initiate disciplinary action against the officers who prepared the forged spot panchnama.

Recently, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court stayed the demolition of Akbar Nagar, which was constructed illegally on the land of Kukrail reserve forest in Lucknow. The division bench of Justice Vivek Chaudhary and Justice Om Prakash Shukla passed the order while hearing a petition filed by Ramu Balmiki. The petitioner had approached the Court against the demolition notice given by the Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) on the ground that the petitioner had raised construction unauthorisedly without having any title over the government land. The bench said that the Authority was required to provide a scheme with regard to the rehabilitation of poor persons.

The Authority filed a counter affidavit stating that before removing the said encroachment in the Akbar Nagar area, the LDA had already framed a rehabilitation scheme wherein such displaced persons/encroachers would be provided accommodation at a very meagre amount in Basant Kunj Yojna of LDA Scheme.

In June 2022, the wife of Javed Mohammad, the prime accused in the Prayagraj violence case, had approached the Allahabad High Court filing a petition to challenge the demolition of her house by the officials of Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA). Parveen Fatima, who owned the property demolished by PDA, accused the officials of acting as per their whims and fancies while razing her house. The Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA) had demolished Javed’s house, claiming that the building map of the house had not been approved by them. 

In the petition, Fatima and her daughter Sumaiya Fatma said that the former was the owner of the house that she had received as a gift from her parents before her marriage. The petitioners also alleged that the notice by the PDA was not addressed to Fatima, but to her husband Javed and her house was arbitrarily demolished. In the petition, Fatima also demanded the re-construction of her house and action against the guilty officers. Fatima further demanded that the government accommodation be provided to them till the new house is built and appropriate compensation given. 

Such judicial interventions are welcomed, but whether it will keep the bulldozers at bay is another question. 

—By Adarsh Kumar and India Legal Bureau


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