Supreme Court orders demolition of 10,000 houses in Aravali forest land

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The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Faridabad Municipal Corporation to clear eco-sensitive Aravali forest land of encroachments within six weeks by demolish around 10,000 houses unauthorisedly built in Lakkarpur-Khori village and put the onus of compliance on Haryana forest secretary and civic body commissioner.

Appearing for a village resident facing imminent demolition, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves pleaded for mercy and said most inhabitants of the village could be given house at alternative sites if the Haryana government rehabilitation policy cut-off was advanced from the year 2003 to 2015. “Most of them have been living there since the 1980s when the mining was carried on in Aravali. But, they don’t have documents to prove it. They have proof of residence since 2010,” he said.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said it is surprising that the authorities have not carried out the demolition of unauthorised houses on forest land despite repeated orders from the SC had passed orders in February last year and in April this year. The civic body through senior advocate Arun Bharadwaj said that the villagers were resorting to stone pelting when the corporation officials attempted a demolition drive.

When Gonsalves said that the residents are willing to vacate the houses on forest land if they were provided alternative accommodation by the government under a rehabilitation plan, the bench said, “Who is arguing this, land grabbers? It is forest land. So, there can be no compromise in restoring and maintaining its character. You vacate, or we direct eviction.”

When Gonsalves pressed further for mercy, the bench told the senior advocate, “You often come to the court with cases for protection of forest land and protection of environment. Now you say that on humanitarian ground allow destruction of forest. You cannot wear two hats alternatively as and when it suits you. Next time you come with a petition for protection of environment, we will show you this argument of yours in the present case.”

The SC had stopped mining activities by several orders since 2001. But, the area in Lakkarpur-Khori saw thousands of families settle down and build houses right under the nose of police and civic authority officials till the SC intervened and sought removal of encroachments from Aravali forest land, termed eco-fragile by most environmentalists.

The bench of Justices Khanwilkar and Maheshwari reiterated its directions of February 19, 2020 and April 5, 2021 and directed the municipal corporation and state government to remove all encroachments from the forest land within six weeks. It asked the municipal commissioner and the forest secretary of the state to file affidavits of compliance and said their reports about removal of unauthorised houses on forest land would be verified by an independent team.

It told counsel for Haryana government, Ruchi Kohli, that the state must take appropriate steps to implement SC orders failing which the state chief secretary would be made answerable, if necessary. It said Faridabad SP will be personally responsible for providing adequate forces to facilitate corporation officials carry out the demolition drive. The SC posted the matter for further hearing on July 27.

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