North India

‘It’s a human issue’: SC stays Uttarakhand HC’s order for eviction of over 4k families

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S. Oka said: "There is a human angle to it", and added there cannot be uprooting of several thousand people in seven days.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Uttarakhand High Court direction for eviction of over 4,000 families from the railway land in Haldwani in the state’s Nainital district.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S. Oka said: “There is a human angle to it”, and added there cannot be uprooting of several thousand people in seven days.

The bench also noted that it may not be correct to say that paramilitary forces have to be deployed to remove people, who have been living there for many decades.

The top court stayed the high court’s direction for eviction of families within a week and that their houses be demolished. It observed that a large number of people cannot be uprooted by using force without examining their occupancy rights, and emphasised that alternate arrangements would have to be made before uprooting people.

The petitioners claimed they are poor people who have been lawful residents of Mohalla Nai Basti and Line No 17 & 18, Banbhulpura (Azad Nagar), Haldwani for more than 70 years.

The top court issued notice to the Uttarakhand government and the railways on a batch of petitions filed against the judgment passed by a division bench of the high court on December 20, 2022.

During the hearing, the top court asked the railways to find a practical solution to the issue and stressed that many of the occupants have been residing there for decades, claiming rights on the basis of leases and auction purchases.

The bench said, “There are two aspects of the issue. One, they claim leases. Two, they say people migrated after 1947 and the lands were auctioned.”

Justice Kaul said that there are establishments on the land in question and questioned, “how can you say in seven days clear them off?”

Justice Oka noted that the people have been staying there for 50 years. He further added: “How do you deal with the scenario of people who have purchased the land in auction. You may acquire the land and utilise…”

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhat, representing the Railways, submitted that the land belongs to the Railways and several orders for eviction have been passed under the Public Premises Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing some of the petitioners, submitted that they were ex-parte orders passed during the Covid period. Bhati contended that the petitioners claim the land as their own and that they have not sought rehabilitation.

The bench pointed out that the high court passed the order without hearing the affected parties. It added, “Find out some solution. It is a human issue…”

Justice Kaul added that the human issue arises from long periods of occupation and maybe all of them cannot be painted with the same brush. “Maybe there are different categories… Somebody will have to verify the documents,” he said.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra submitted that many petitioners had government leases executed in their favour.

Bhati said the land is gateway to the state and critical for its development and proceedings under the Public Premises Act were initiated, and no stay was granted on it.

After staying the high court direction, the top court scheduled the matter for further hearing on February 7, and asked the state government and the railways to find a “practical solution”.

Senior advocates Salman Khurshid, Colin Gonsalves, Luthra and advocate Bhushan represented the petitioners in the matter. One of the petitions was filed ‘Jan Sahyog Sewa Samiti’ through its President Salim Saifi and others against the high court order.

The petitioners have claimed that they are in possession of valid documents that clearly establish title and valid occupation. Also, the names of the local residents have been recorded in the municipal records in the house tax register and they are paying the house tax regularly. They said there are five government schools, one hospital, and two overhead water tanks in the area.

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