The need to preserve water bodies would gain priority over the right of the landless poor to housing if there was a conflict between these two social issues, the Madras High Court Bench here observed.

Justices D. Murugesan and S. Nagamuthu made the observation while disposing of a batch of cases with a direction to the Dindigul Collector to evict over 500 families living for over two decades on Sirunaickankulam water tank in Palani Municipality.

“Taking injections is of course a painful process. Nevertheless, the patient has to bear the same if the disease has to go. Likewise, removing these encroachers is really painful but the authorities have no other option,” the Bench said.

It went on to state: “We expect that the encroachers would vacate, on their own, so that the irrigation tank can be restored to its original position. We also expect the Government to rehabilitate them in a suitable place without any loss of time.”

Writing the judgement, Mr. Justice Nagamuthu said that landless poor had a fundamental right under Article 21 (Right to life) of the Constitution to demand residence. But such right could not be extended to the level of encroaching water sources.

The Bench also found fault with the Collector, Revenue Divisional Officer and Palani Municipality in making recommendations to the State Government recently to grant patta (land ownership document) to the encroachers.

It pointed out that the recommendations were in violation of an assurance given by the district administration before the High Court in 1998 to evict all encroachers from the water body.

The assurance was given in a case filed by a farmers’ association.

“Despite such an assurance and consequential direction issued by this Court, steps were not taken for eviction… On the other hand, the officials have provided road, electricity and drinking water facilities so as to encourage the encroachments,” the judges said.

There were materials to proceed against the officials for contempt of court. “But we do not propose to do so… in the fond hope that at least the order which we pass presently would be complied with,” they added.

Rejecting contentions raised by the encroachers, the Bench said: “It may be true that because of the encroachments these areas (water tank) have become elevated and so there is no water accumulation as of now. It does not mean that by desilting, the original position could not be restored.”