“All Major Cities Have Turned Into Slums”: Supreme Court On Encroachments

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The Indian Railways has to take responsibility for encroachments on its land and take strict action against them, the Supreme Court said today, refusing to allow 5000 hutments to continue in Gujarat.”All major cities have turned into slums… This is a sad story going on for 75 years and we are celebrating the 75th year of Independence next year,” said a three-judge bench, turning down an appeal from the slum dwellers to stop the demolition.

“Look at any city, Chandigarh might be an exception but there are problems in Chandigarh as well. That is happening everywhere. Let us rise to reality and think how the problem has to be resolved,” said Justice AM Khanwilkar, who was on the bench along with Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar.

Directing the Railways to initiate criminal action against unauthorised occupants immediately, the court said, “Railways cannot be let off the hook of their responsibility. It is not just the state government’s responsibility… The time has come for the corporations to take the responsibility of removing the encroachment”. The court said it would also review the action taken.

The Railways have also been asked to take action against officials who have allowed the encroachments to take place.

“Performance will be apprised by us and not your hirers. Your liability is an equal liability along with the state and corporation. The owner who is incapable of protecting the property should be liable along with the State and Corporation,” Justice Khanwilkar told Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, who was representing the Railways.

The order cleared the path for demolition of a huge swathe of hutments in Gujarat’s Surat, that have come up on Railway land. The demolition will lead to the eviction of 10,000 people.

The court has asked the Gujarat government and the Railways to jointly provide a compensation of Rs 2,000 per month for 6 months for each demolished hut. The money is for the people to manage accommodation till they are rehabilitated.

“The slum dwellers will be eligible for PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) accommodation if applications are made and eligibility is fulfilled,” the court said.

The court had earlier stayed the demolition of the hutments, built along the railway track and issued notices to Centre, Western Railways and the state government.

In their appeal, the Surat-based ‘Utran se Besthan Railway Jhopadpatti Vikas Mandal’, said the slum dwellers will face irreparable injury if they are not provided with alternate arrangement. Once they are evicted and made homeless, their condition would become more miserable, especially in view of the pandemic, the petition had said.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves who appeared for the petitioners, said the people were living on Railway land for more than 60 years and most of them have proof of residence with them.

The Western Railways, he said, had planned a 10 km third railway line between Surat and Jalgaon and ordered the people to vacate the land without any notice or rehabilitation.

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