The Madras High Court has come to the rescue of about 55,000 slum dwellers who were not given ownership of residential plots allotted to them decades ago under World Bank-aided projects, despite paying the entire sale consideration.

Allowing a writ petition filed by one of them, Justice S. Manikumar directed the Housing Secretary as well as the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB) to execute sale deeds in favour of all the 55,000 eligible slum dwellers within two months.

Petitioner S. Arokiam stated that the TNSCB allotted him a 3.88 sq m plot at Ullagaram in Chennai on April 10, 1992 under Madras Urban Development Project (MUDP)-II funded by the World Bank. The value of the property was fixed to be Rs.40,950 and the petitioner was asked to remit the sale price in monthly instalments of Rs.465. The TNSCB also gave him permission to obtain housing finance as well as electricity and drainage connections.

However, even after payment of the entire sale consideration in 1999 itself, the TNSCB did not execute a sale deed in his favour. Hence, he filed the present writ petition in 2003 and it was pending for the last nine years for want of a counter affidavit.

Taking it up for final disposal, the judge called for government records, which disclosed that around 55,000 slum dwellers in 120 localities in the State were facing a similar problem as most of the lands granted to them were classified as waterbodies in revenue records.

Stating that the beneficiaries of government schemes could not be treated like encroachers for it was the government which had allotted the lands under MUDP and Tamil Nadu Urban Development Projects, the judge said that there cannot be any impediment in assigning lands now as there were not used as water sources any more. Though only one beneficiary had filed the petition, Mr. Justice Manikumar said that his judgement should be treated as a judgement in rem (applicable to all) as each and every poor slum dweller could not be expected to file an individual petition thereby incurring unnecessary expenditure.