Supreme Court Stays Uttarakhand HC Direction For Haldwani Evictions; Says 'There Can't Be Uprooting Of 50,000 People In 7 Days'
The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the order of the Uttarakhand High Court for the removal of occupants in lands claimed by railways in Haldwani, based on which the authorities issued eviction notices to over 4000 families, who claim that they have been residing in the area for years based on valid documents recognized by the government authorities.
Taking exception to the High Court direction to remove the occupants in seven days, the Supreme Court observed "there cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in 7 days".
A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka passed the order while issuing notice to the State of Uttarakhand and the Railways in a batch of special leave petitions filed against the judgment passed by a division bench of the High Court on December 20, 2022.
The Court posted the matter to February 7, 2023, asking the State and the Railways to find a "practical solution".
The bench was particularly concerned with the fact that many of the occupants have been residing there for decades claiming rights on the basis of leases and auction purchases.
"There are two aspects of the issue. One, they claim leases. Two, they say people migrated after 1947 and the lands were auctioned. 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 SK Kaul asked.
"People say they have been there for fifty years", Justice Oka observed.
"What is troubling us that, how do you deal with the scenario of people who have purchased the land in auction. You may acquire the land and utilise. Other is people have lived there for 50-60 years, some rehabilitation scheme has to be done, even assuming it is railway land", Justice Kaul said. "There is a human angle to it", the judge added.
Justice Oka pointed out that the High Court has passed the order without hearing the affected parties. "Find out some solution. It is a human issue", he said.
Supplementing Justice Oka, Justice Kaul said, "The human issue arises from long periods of occupation. Maybe all of them cannot be painted with the same brush. Maybe there are different categories. But the individual cases have to be examined. Somebody will have to verify the documents".
"It may not be correct to say that paramilitary forces have to be deployed to remove people who have been living there for decades", Justice Oka said, taking exception to the High Court directions.
During the hearing, the bench asked if there has been demarcation between the state land and the railway land. The bench also asked if it was true that the proceedings under the Public Premises Act are pending.
Additional Solicitor General of India Aishwarya Bhat submitted that the State and the railways are on the same page that the land belongs to railways. She also submitted that several orders for eviction have been passed under the Public Premises Act. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, for the petitioners, submitted that they were ex-parte orders passed during the Covid period.
ASG Bhati further submitted that the petitioners claim the land of their own and that they have not sought rehabilitation.
Senior Advocate Dr.Colin Gonsalves, appearing for some of the petitioners, submitted that the possession of the land has been with the petitioners' families since prior independence and that they have been in possession of the government leases which were executed in their favour. Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra also asserted tat many petitioners had government leases executed in favour of them. Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid stated that many properties were in "nazul" lands.
Taking note of these submissions, Justice Kaul told the State, "State of Uttarakhand has to find a practical solution".
ASG Bhati highlighted that the land was necessary for the development of the railway facilities. She stressed on the fact that Haldwani acts as a gateway for the Uttarakhand rail traffic.
After the hearing, the bench dictated the following order :
"We have heard the learned counsel for the parties. ASG has emphasised the need for the railways. The moot point to be considered whether the complete land is to vest in the railways or whether the State government is claiming a part of the land. Apart from that, there are issues of occupants claiming rights on the land as lessees or auction purchasers. We are on the way the order has been passed as there cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in 7 days. A workable arrangement is necessary to segregate people who may have rights/no rights coupled with schemes of rehabilitation which already exists while recognising the need of the railways.
We have put to the ASG that full rehabilitation of the persons in the area is needed. Issue notice. In the meantime there shall be stay of the directions passed in the impugned order. There should also be a restraint on any more construction/development on the land".
The Court also clarified that the proceedings under the Public Premises Act can continue. Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand Jatinder Kumar Sethi accepted notice on behalf of the State Government.
Arguments raised in the petition
The petition highlights that the petitioners are poor people who have been lawful residents of Mohalla Nai Basti, Haldwani district for more than 70 years. As per the petitioner, the Uttarakhand High Court ordered the summary eviction of more than 20,000 people residing in more than 4000 houses despite the fact that proceedings regarding the title of the residents were pending before the district magistrate.