NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Thursday said that being below the poverty line is "not an exception" to not abide by rule of law which has to be adhered to by all concerned.
While hearing a matter relating to encroachment on Railway land in Gujarat, the apex court observed that when the Constitution recognizes rule of law, it has to be adhered to by one and all.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner told a bench of Justices A M Khanwilakar and J B Pardiwala that some time be given to the eligible applicants, who have been affected by the removal of encroachment and would be rehabilitated as per the 'Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana', to pay installment for the accommodation to be given to them.
"Whatever has been done is already an indulgence shown to all these persons. They were rank trespassers occupying Railway property," the bench said. The petitioner's counsel said that these persons are below the poverty line.
"When Constitution recognizes rule of law, it has to be adhered to by one and all. Below poverty line is not an exception not to abide by rule of law," the bench said, adding that several persons are there who are below the poverty line.
The bench said the petitioner can approach the authority and if they have the power to extend the time under the scheme, they would consider it.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Surat municipal corporation, told the bench that as of today, 1,901 applications have been approved out of 2,450 applications for allotment under the 'Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana' by the affected persons.
He said as per the scheme, the allottee has to pay Rs six lakh per flat. When the petitioner's counsel said that 549 applications have not been approved, the bench said if it has been rejected, the applicants are free to challenge that decision before the appropriate forum.
The bench asked Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj, who was representing the Railway, about the action taken against the officers for their inaction which resulted in encroachment on the Railway property.
The bench noted that it has been stated before it by the Western Railways and the municipal corporation that the encroachment on the subject Railway property has been fully cleared.
It further noted that the counsel appearing for the petitioner has submitted that some of the allottees may encounter difficulty in maintaining the timeline of payment of installment.
The apex court said such persons may request the concerned authority which would consider it appropriate and in accordance with the law.
It said the applicants whose claims have been rejected by the authorities are free to take recourse to appropriate remedy to assail the decision.
While disposing of the petition, the bench recorded that the concerned department must take appropriate action against the erring officials and the disciplinary action that has been already initiated may be taken to its logical conclusion expeditiously.
The apex court had earlier observed that the Railways is "equally responsible" for ensuring that there is no encroachment on its properties and it must initiate action against unauthorised occupants immediately after the issue is brought to its notice.
It had noted that the Surat-Udhna to Jalgaon Railway line project in Gujarat was still incomplete because of the unauthorised structures standing on the Railway property to the extent of 2.65 kilometres.
The top court had earlier directed that Rs 2,000 per month as a solatium for six months be paid to the occupants of an unauthorised structure that would be demolished in the demolition action.
It had said that if no rehabilitation scheme was in force or formulated by the local authority, the persons likely to be affected by the demolition action can apply for allocation of residential premises under the 'Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana', which application be processed not later than six months from the date of its receipt and taken to its logical end.
The petitioner had earlier told the apex court that the Gujarat High Court had vacated its July 23, 2014, interim order of status quo and permitted the Western Railways to go ahead with the Surat-Udhna up to Jalgaon third railway line project.
The plea, filed by Surat-based 'Utran se Besthan Railway Jhopadpatti Vikas Mandal', had said that "irreparable injury" would be caused to the slum dwellers residing on the Railway land if they are not provided with the alternate arrangement and once they would be evicted and made homeless, their condition would become more miserable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.