The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed a December 20 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying railway land in Haldwani district within a week.
A Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and A.S. Oka remarked that some of these people have been living on the land for 50 to 70 years and could not be evicted within a week.
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The court said the issue has a “human angle”. Many proceedings under the Public Premises Act were instituted ex parte against the families during the COVID-19 pandemic. A balance had to be struck between Railways’ need to develop the land and the families right to live with dignity. The rights of the families on the land had to be examined. Even those who have no rights, but have been living there for years, need to be rehabilitated.
“They cannot be uprooted overnight from the land... Somebody has to go into the need for rehabilitation while recognising the need of the Railways,” Justice Kaul said.
“And it was not right to order bringing in paramilitary forces,” Justice Oka remarked.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, for the Railways, said the land around the Kathgodam Railway Station could not be developed and there is a need to open the State to more rail traffic, with Haldwani the nearest location. The land belonged to the Indian Railways. Ms. Bhati said the people had never claimed their right to rehabilitation. Instead, they had claimed right over the land itself.
Senior advocates Colin Gonsalves, Siddharth Luthra and Salman Khurshid, and advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the various affected families, said over 5,000 families were affected. Proceedings against them pertaining to the Public Premises Act were still on. The High Court order had come out of the blue and was ex parte. They had not been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. Children, women and elderly persons among them now faced the prospect of being evicted from their homes in the dead of winter in the biting cold.
Their petition said: “Ours is a welfare state where government authorities need to work towards the well-being and prosperity of the citizens. In the present case, they have proceeded without following due process to issue ex-parte orders against the petitioners and produce arbitrary demarcation report… Such an approach shows an absolute disregard to procedure of law and is in complete violation of basic humanitarian and fundamental rights.”
“These people are not just encroachers... There are multiple issues involved here. They cannot be evicted within the week,” Justice Kaul remarked.
The court issued notice to the Uttarakhand Government while putting a complete stop to the eviction. It listed the case on February 7.
The case was listed urgently on January 5 after Mr. Bhushan, on Wednesday, urged Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud during an oral mentioning that the High Court order had left families in the areas of Banbhulpura and Mohalla Nai Basti in dire straits.