Encroachment Issue Has To Be Addressed In “More Considered” Way: Court

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Merely labelling persons as encroachers and displacing them is not a solution and the issue has to be addressed in a “more considered fashion” than by just deploying bulldozers, the Bombay High Court has said while seeking to know from the Western Railway, Mumbai civic body and MMRDA if they have any rehabilitation policy in place.
A division bench of Justice Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale on February 8 heard a petition filed by Mumbai-based Ekta Welfare Society, challenging the eviction and demolition notices issued to its residents by railway authorities as they were encroaching on its property.

The bench sought information from the Western Railway, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) if they have in place any rehabilitation policy or system, and what are the eligibility criteria.

“Throughout, we bear in mind that merely labelling these persons as ‘encroachers’ is not going to answer the problem. This is a serious problem in the city and it is a problem of human displacement. Sometimes, the scale of the displacement is beyond the imagination. It has to be addressed in a more considered fashion than by merely deploying bulldozers on the site,” the court said. As per the Western Railway, 101 unauthorised structures have already been demolished till February 7.

The court in its order said the Western Railway and other authorities had not followed directions given by the Supreme Court in December 2021 while such demolition drives are held.

As per the SC order, before commencing the process of eviction and removal of structures, the authorities concerned should record the identity of the occupants of the structure for consideration of rehabilitation.

The Supreme Court had said if the local government has any rehabilitation scheme, then the affected persons should be permitted to apply for the same if eligible.

The high court said the demolition report submitted by the Western Railway does not indicate whether any survey was done of the 101 structures before demolition, which was against the SC order.

The bench said no further demolition is to be carried out in contravention of the SC order anywhere on Western Railway lands in Mumbai, and posted the matter for further hearing on March 1.

It said the notices issued to the occupants of the petitioner society’s structures do not point out any rehabilitation scheme or any requirements of eligibility or how these are to be met or within what time.

“These are not even notices under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act. They are simply eviction notices,” the HC said.

It was also unclear if the Western Railway took up the matter of rehabilitation with the MMRDA or the BMC, it said.

It, however, added that at this stage the court was not indicating that the MMRDA or the BMC was necessarily bound to rehabilitate those ousted in the Western Railway’s encroachment removal drives.

As per the demolition report, the debris generated from the demolition drive was thrown outside the railway land at a low lying area.

The court took exception to this and said it does not emphatically approve of this approach.

“The disposal of the debris raises more questions than it answers because by throwing the material into a low-lying area, apparently the presumption is that it will get washed into the Arabian Sea,” the HC said.

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