'Thousands can't be uprooted overnight': SC stays demolition of houses in Uttarakhand's Haldwani

There are religious places, schools, business establishments and residences on an area spread over 29 acres of alleged encroached railway land in Banbhoolpura.
Local people from Haldwani react as they celebrate the Supreme Court's order on Haldwani eviction case, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)
Local people from Haldwani react as they celebrate the Supreme Court's order on Haldwani eviction case, in New Delhi. (Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI:  In a relief for some 50,000 people who have encroached on a vast stretch of railway land in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani, the Supreme Court on Thursday observed that there cannot be uprooting of the people overnight within seven days. The apex court stayed the Uttarakhand High Court order directing the authorities to remove encroachment from the railway land.

A Supreme Court bench of justices SK Kaul and AS Oka said a humane angle was involved in the case, and that the state government as well as the railways should work out an arrangement that could help rehabilitate the people and meet the requirements of the railways.

The bench also said that the documents of the occupants have to be examined as many of them purchased the land through auction. “There is a human angle to the problem… these are people. Something will have to be worked out. Some scheme will have to be found out for rehabilitation,” said Justice Kaul.

“What is troubling us is, first, how do you deal with a scenario where people may have purchased land in auction after 1947? You can expand the railway line of course. Second is people have been living for four-five decades, some rehabilitation scheme will have to be put in place.”

The bench also expressed its displeasure over the HC order to deploy paramilitary forces for removing the people living there for decades. “The moot point to be considered would be whether the complete land is to vest in railways or if the state is claiming a part of it.

Apart from that, there are issues of occupants claiming rights on the land as there are claims of auction purchases,” the bench noted in the order. The court also issued notice to the state government and posted the pleas for February 7. The bench restrained further occupation and development/construction on the land.

The observations were made while considering pleas filed by residents against Uttarakhand HC’s December 12, 2022 order. The HC, while ordering for removal of encroachment spread across 29-acre railway land in Banbhoolpura area, granted encroachers one week time to vacate it. ASG Aishwarya Bhati submitted that the state and the railways were on the same page with regard to the authority to whom the land belonged. Apprising the bench of several orders under the Public Premises Act, she said due process was followed and the eviction did not take place overnight.

For the residents, senior advocates Siddharth Luthra and Colin Gonsalves argued that in some cases possession of the land had been with the family of the residents prior to Independence while in others, the government had executed the lease in their favour.

The pleas which were filed by the residents had argued that thousands of persons affected by the contested eviction orders were also suffering another unjust consequence of the HC order. The pleas stated that names of local residents were entered in the municipal records of the house tax register and that they have been paying house tax regularly for years.

Residents had further stated that their ancestors had long settled the physical possession; some even prior to the date of India’s independence, the facts recognised by the State and its agencies. “We do believe a workable arrangement is necessary. People may have no rights on the land, they may have to be removed, coupled with schemes of rehabilitation, while recognising the needs of the railways,” said the bench.

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