It has been persisting since 1984 without any end in sight

No other dispute could have been as hard a nut to crack as the one between Mohammed Hussain Aatchi Ummal and her neighbour M. Fathima Bazara living in adjacent houses at Salai street in Keezhakarai of Ramanathapuram district. The two women have been fighting a legal battle for the last three decades over nothing but coconuts.

It was in 1984 that Ms. Ummal filed a civil suit before the Ramanathapuram District Munsif court seeking an order to cut down two coconut trees that had grown in Ms. Bazara’s house on the ground of nuisance. The Munsif dismissed the suit on January 12, 1993. An appeal was filed against the decision. But that too got dismissed on March 13, 1993.

Ms. Ummal filed a second appeal before the Principal Seat of the Madras High Court, which too ended up in dismissal on March 21, 2003. Thereafter, she made an application to the then Ramanathapuram Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) G. Khadir Hussain to fell the trees as they were leaning over her house.

The RDO invoked Section 133 (power conferred on Executive Magistrates to order removal of any building, tent, structure or tree that was likely to fall and thereby cause injury to persons living or carrying on business in the neighbourhood) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and passed an order on February 4, 2006 for the removal of the trees.

Ms. Bazara filed a criminal original petition in the High Court Bench challenging the RDO’s order. She also alleged that the RDO made sure that the trees were felled on the same day that he had passed the order and the men deployed by the RDO to do the job had damaged the compound wall of her house during the course of cutting the trees.

The High Court disposed of the petition on July 19, 2006 with a suggestion that the petitioner could file a statutory appeal before the Collector against the RDO’s order. Ms. Bazara accepted the suggestion and moved the Collector. Simultaneously, she filed a writ petition in the High Court and obtained a direction to dispose of the statutory appeal within eight weeks.

When the matter was not disposed of within the court stipulated time, she issued a lawyer’s notice to the Collector on June 19, 2007 warning him of moving a contempt of court application. Subsequently, the Collector passed an order on July 6, 2007 wherein he rejected her claim of the compound wall having been damaged at the time of felling the two coconut trees.

Aggrieved, Ms. Bazara filed a writ petition the same year with a plea to set aside the Collector’s observation and order grant of compensation for the loss suffered by her. She also produced photographs of the damaged wall. Allowing the writ petition on Friday, Justice T.S. Sivagnanam quashed the Collector’s order and remitted the matter for fresh consideration.

The judge held that the Collector ought not to have given a finding on the claim over damage caused to the compound wall without deciding whether the RDO was justified in felling the trees by invoking Section 133 especially when three civil courts had rejected a similar plea raised by the writ petitioner’s neighbour since 1984.