In a significant order, the Madras High Court has said, it cannot endorse the practice of assigning alternative lands to those who had encroached upon waterbodies. It observed that such assignments would only serve as an incentive and lead to promotion of encroachment of water sources.
Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy made the observations while passing interim orders on a writ petition filed by two agriculturalists, through their counsel M. Purushothaman, to remove encroachments from a waterbody at Karadibavi village in Tiruppur district.
Despite granting several adjournments, the authorities reported to the court that the encroachments were removed only partially since the government was yet to assign alternative lands to all the encroachers. They said, the remaining encroachers would be evicted after assigning appropriate lands.
However, when the Chief Justice asked under which provision of law were the encroachers of waterbodies were being rewarded with alternative public properties, the authorities had no answer but to state that the encroachers were poor people who could not afford to purchase properties on their own.
Not satisfied with the explanation, the Chief Justice said there were many poor people who refrain from indulging in encroachment of water sources and therefore, poverty could not be cited as a reason by the government to incentivise the encroachers of waterbodies and rain catchment areas.
“The allotment of alternative lands to the encroachers would only promote the tendency to encroach on government lands and waterbodies. For years, the officers have remained silent spectators and failed to take any action in reference to the encroachments on the waterbodies,” the judges wrote.
They went on to state: “Therefore, there is a total failure on the part of the officers concerned to remove the encroachments on the waterbodies and even on catchment areas. The encroachment of the waterbodies would lead to shrinkage and destroy them to the maximum besides creating acute water scarcity.”
Assigning alternative government lands to encroachers of waterbodies might be a government policy or decision. “However, in the absence of any statutory provision, it would lead to promoting encroachment of the lands on the waterbodies and the same cannot be endorsed,” the Bench said.
It ordered that all encroachments on the waterbody in Karadibavi must be removed by April 4.