New Delhi: The Supreme Court has stayed an order of the Uttarakhand high court directing the removal of occupants from land allegedly owned by the Railways in Haldwani.
A division bench of the Uttarakhand high court led by Sharat Kumar Sharma had on December 20, 2022, granted seven days to remove the families from the Banbhoolpura region.
Over 4,000 families residing in the area near the Haldwani railway station thus faced eviction, despite claiming that they have been living on the land near the railway lines for over 40 years now. Reports said that government schools also came up on this land.
Amidst protests, some of the residents had approached the Supreme Court for relief.
LiveLaw has reported that an apex court bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S. Oka, that, “There cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in 7 days.”
The apex court also issued notice to the Uttarakhand government and the Railways.
The Supreme Court posted the matter to February 7, 2023, asking the Uttarakhand government and the Railways to find a “practical solution”.
The Wire has reported on how the now-stayed high court order comes against the backdrop of a longstanding legal tussle over the ownership of land in the region, which is home to a predominantly working-class population hailing from the Muslim community.
The petition, which was accessed by The Wire, stated that the land in question is in fact Nazul land. This refers to non-agricultural land that is owned by the government which can be leased to families and in some cases, even given as freehold. This point was highlighted in court today on behalf of the petitioners by Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid.
The petitioners broadly stated:
- That the railway has no evidence to claim this land as its own and the parties have not substantiated their claims of ownership, and
- Over a thousand appeals by residents have been pending before the district courts pertaining to individual cases of land ownership being contested under the ambit of the Public Premises Act, 1971, in relation to the case.
LiveLaw’s report highlights that the apex court bench was “particularly concerned” about the fact that decade-long residents of the area had claimed land through leases and purchases from auctions after migrations in 1947.
“People stayed there for so many years. Some rehabilitation has to be given. There are establishments there. How can you say in seven days clear them off?”, Justice S.K. Kaul said
Even assuming it is Railway land, Justice Kaul said, the fact that some have lived there for over 50 years and some have bought the land in auctions are facts that have to be dealt with through rehabilitation and acquisition of land respectively.
“There is a human angle to it,” Justice Kaul said.
Justice Oka noted that the Uttarakhand high court’s order was passed without hearing the affected parties.
“Find out some solution. It is a human issue”, he said.
Taking further exception to the high court’s assertions, Justice Oka also said that “it may not be correct to say that paramilitary forces have to be deployed to remove people who have been living there for decades.”
Additional Solicitor General of India Aishwarya Bhat submitted on behalf of Uttarakhand that the government and the Railways both are on the same page that the land belongs to the latter. However, to her claim that “several eviction orders” had been passed under the Public Premises Act, advocate Prashant Bhushan who was representing some of the petitioners, submitted that “they were ex–parte orders passed during the COVID period.”