Mumbai, September 17, 2021: The Bombay High Court has ruled that mere rights of rehabilitation cannot be recognized to be equivalent to a right of ownership or as if it is some compensation being offered to the slum dwellers for their encroachment and occupation of Government land.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni observed that the petitioners, who initially encroached on the Government land and who had remained on the same for some-time so as to fall within the beneficial policy of the State Government of being protected slum dwellers, cannot elevate their protection to such an extent that such slum dwellers have to be rehabilitated either on the same land, if any remaining after the project work is completed or they be provided a permanent alternate accommodation within the vicinity.
The observation came pursuant to a public notice issued by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (respondent), Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Area, by which the petitioners along with other slumdwellers were sought to be rehabilitated, being affected by the Pune Metro Rail project.
The Petitioners’ main grievance was that they were being rehabilitated to a site quite far away from the present location of the slum land, which they claimed was prejudicial to their interest.
The petitioners’ contention was that under the State policy, they were protected occupiers who would be required to be rehabilitated by allotment of a free of cost permanent alternate accommodation, in case of utilization of the slum land for public purpose.
Opposing the same, the SRA issued notices regarding relocation and allotment of land to the slum dwellers, and even visited individual hutments to ensure that they were evacuated at the earliest.
The High Court observed that the petitioners are not denied benefit of rehabilitation. In fact they were called upon by several notices to take allotment of alternate premises. However, the petitioners have taken an unreasonably adamant stand of refusing to accept the said benefit.
Be that as it may, if the petitioners are not interested to have permanent alternate premises offered to them free of cost, it is deemed that they have relinquished such benefit, and in that event, the SRA would not have any obligation to grant them any allotment, added the Court.
Stating that petitioners occupying Government land cannot take such an adamant stand as canvassed by them, when they are occupying Government land, the High Court observed that insistence of the petitioners if accepted and that too in the context of the ‘State’ undertaking such public projects, it would be impossible to plan any such project using the Government land for the benefit of the public atlarge.
The Division Bench opined that any encroachment on public land at the threshold ought not to be tolerated and prompt action is required to be taken to remove such encroachment, more particularly when those who are custodians of the public land are well aware that encroachments for long periods will clothe the encroachers with rights to seek rehabilitation at public costs under the prevalent Government policies.
“It is not new that valuable Government land on account of the negligent approach of the officers in charge by not protecting such lands from encroachment have stood extinguished from the Government’s holding, causing a serious cascading effect, namely, that whenever land is required for any public purpose, the Government is required to acquire the same from private holdings, causing an unwarranted burden on the public exchequer and a sheer waste of the tax payers money”, observed the Division Bench.
The High Court also highlighted that the act of the Government in not protecting its valuable land and permitting it to be encroached to be developed by the slum dwellers, despite its mighty machinery, amounts to grossest violation of the public trust doctrine as a result of the patent abuse of the powers vested in such Government machinery in not protecting public property.
Hence, the High Court concluded by saying that the policy of the State Government which rewards the encroachers of the public land by a free of cost accommodation, not only violate the ‘principles of equality’ but certainly fall foul of the doctrine of public trust.