In 2008, Madras High Court had passed orders striking a balance between encroachers and others
A serious disturbance to law and order that went to the extent of an auto-rickshaw driver immolating himself in full public view in the fireworks town of Sivakasi on Saturday was not an unexpected event. In fact, the State Government had foreseen such a grave reaction in 1995 itself and had even recorded its apprehension in a Government Order passed that year.
It all began on September 13, 1995 when the Revenue Department passed a G.O. for converting 138 encroachments on land classified as ‘Sri Kulam Kanmoi Poramboku’ into ‘Natham.’ An attempt made by the district administration to evict the encroachers had failed once following large scale protest. Hence, the government on considering a report of the Commissioner of Land Administration and apprehending law and order problems in case of eviction, passed the G.O. for regularising the encroachments.
Not in agreement with such a decision taken by the State, the Sivakasi Regional Tax Payers’ Association filed a writ petition in the Principal Seat of the High Court in Chennai challenging the validity of the G.O. During the final hearing of the case by a Division Bench comprising Justice P.K. Misra and Justice K. Chandru in 2008, the petitioner association contended that the town had two main water sources: Periya Kulam Kanmoi and Siru Kulam Kanmoi. The excess water from the first flowed to the second. But most of the lands connected to these water bodies were encroached.
In the heavy rains during 1996, the Siru Kulam tank got filled up to its full capacity. Immediately, the officials blocked the water course from Periya Kulam to Siru Kulam with sand bags and it resulted in flooding of water in the main roads of Sivakasi. Despite protests by the petitioner association, the government regularised the encroachments citing a similar G.O. passed in 1986.
The case was heard along with another writ petition filed by the same association in 2007 challenging a government order passed by the same Revenue Department on December 30, 2006 empowering the Collector to regularize encroachments that were more than 10 years old if the land in question had lost its original character and it was not required for any government purpose.
Disposing of both the petitions together by a common order on April 29, 2008, the Division Bench refused to quash the G.O.s and upheld the right of the government to regularise certain encroachments. The order was passed after considering the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Land Encroachment Act, Tamil Nadu Protection of Tanks and Eviction of Encroachment Act and the Revenue Standing Orders.
The Bench of Mr. Justice Misra and Mr. Justice Chandru also held that the petitioner association too should not be put to inconvenience due to regularization of such encroachments and the government should take steps to construct modern drainage system, preferably underground, in the town. In so far as drinking water was concerned, they recorded the government stand that it was being supplied from River Vaipar. Despite being armed with a Division Bench judgement in its favour, the State failed to utilize it effectively to its advantage before the Supreme Court which ordered for eviction of the encroachers in October last. It was while implementing the apex court orders on Saturday that the auto-rickshaw driver went to the extent of taking his life.