District Judge came down heavily on the Municipal Corporation; said that the act amounts to land grabbing

A. Syed Abdul Rahim, an 80-year-old indigent and uneducated man belonging to a minority community, is on cloud nine. And the reason is that the sixth Additional District Court here had recently declared that three streets in Anna Nagar, a most sought after locality in the city, belong to him and not the Madurai Municipal Corporation!

In the judgement delivered to him on Tuesday, District Judge M. Suresh Viswanath came down heavily on the Corporation for squatting over the property for decades together without any authority. He termed the local body's action as a "brazen act of violation of rules besides amounting to grabbing of land from an innocent property owner."

The genesis of the case dates back to 1948 when a scheme named Madhichiyam Part II Town Planning Scheme was framed for the improvement and development of areas abutting Madurai Town.

About 10 acres of land owned by Mr. Rahim's parents S. Abbas and A. Sunna Beevi, in what is now Anna Nagar, was part of the scheme devised under the Town Planning Act 1920. The scheme was notified and registered with the Registration Department and it got reflected in every encumbrance certificate issued with respect to the area since 1950.

Thereafter, when Mr. Abbas divided his land into residential plots for sale, he carefully left about 95 cents of his property for formation of three scheme roads — a 40-feet wide road named as Moulana Sahib Street (54.5 cents) situated close to Reliance Fresh store and two 30-feet wide roads named Periyar Street (17.5 cents) and Kamarajar Street (22.5 cents).

Apart from the three scheme roads, he had also formed other small roads for the benefit of the purchasers of residential plots sold by him and he had no grievance with regard to those small roads. Mr. Abbas wanted the Corporation to acquire the 95 cents of land alone from him as required under the scheme as well as the Town and Country Planning Act. But it did not happen even after many years.

Hence, he and his wife filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court in 1981 to restrain the Corporation from laying a metal road in the three streets without acquiring the property from them and paying adequate compensation. The court disposed of the petition in 1986 with a direction to the local body to consider the petitioners' representation. After the order, the Corporation passed a resolution on December 28, 1987 for acquisition of the property. It also wrote a letter to the Revenue Divisional Officer on August 23, 1990 for initiating acquisition proceedings and a newspaper publication was made in that regard on March 13, 1991. But after that, things came to a standstill once again.

Hence, the owner couple filed another writ petition in 1991 seeking a direction to the Corporation to continue the acquisition proceedings and pay them compensation. This case was dismissed in the same year with an observation that the court could not compel the local body to acquire a particular land as it was a matter of policy decision to be taken up by the council. Nevertheless, Justice S. Ramalingam, the then High Court judge who heard the case, held that the three streets would remain as a private property and the couple could restrain people from using them as public roads. The decision was upheld even by a Division Bench of the High Court in January 1992 while disposing of a writ appeal filed by the couple.

Even as the legal proceedings were going on, the Corporation trespassed into the property since 1980 and began laying metal roads and constructing open drainages by disregarding the innumerable objections raised by Mr. Abbas. A contempt of court application was filed in this regard and the High Court imposed a cost of Rs.2, 000 on the local body in 1997.

In the meantime, the owner couple died and the Corporation, instead of initiating land acquisition proceedings, chose to take a shortcut route and issued two notices in February and May 1998 under Section 254 of the Madurai Municipal Corporation Act and issued a gazette notification in August 1998 declaring the streets as public property.

Mr. Rahim was taken aback by the notification which stated that it was being issued as the owners did not reply to the two notices though, in reality, he had given due replies to both the notices through his lawyer. Not aware of the legal nuances and how to proceed further, he filed a writ petition in the High Court in 1998 against the Corporation's move and left the matter at that.

It was after the introduction of Right to Information Act 2005, Mr. F. M. Jamiluddin (75), brother-in-law of Mr. Rahim, began collecting crucial documents one after the other to prove the Corporation's liability. When the local body refused to part with certain documents, he got them by preferring appeals before the State Information Commission. Later, a civil suit was filed in the name of Mr. Rahim before the Additional District Court in 2007 seeking many reliefs including compensation of Rs.1.97 crore and to exempt the petitioner from paying corresponding court fee for the claim amount as he was an indigent person. It was this case that had ended up in favour of the petitioner recently.

Accepting the arguments of petitioner's counsel R. Surianarayanan and Shahul Hameed, the district judge observed: "It could not be said this suit is a frivolous or vexatious litigation."

Nevertheless, considering the unique nature of the case where the properties in question were being used as public streets and recording the petitioner’s statement that he was only asking for acquisition of his property for a fair compensation, the judge held that the issue should be solved by payment of money.

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