Stating that right to water is an integral part of right to life of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the Bombay High Court (HC) on Monday directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to come up with a policy to provide water to the illegally erected slums in Mumbai, which came up on or before January 1, 2000.
Justices A S Oka and A S Gadkari, however, observed that providing water to illegal hutments does not regularise them. “It is observed that water supply to illegal structures does not affect its illegality,” said the HC. It also clarified under Article 21, right to shelter does not extend to illegal occupants.
Pani Haq Samiti, a group comprising activists, organisations, institutions and slumdwellers, had filed a PIL in 2011 demanding the right to water for all residents in Mumbai, irrespective of slum cut-off dates.
“The BMC will have to evolve a policy for supplying water to persons living in illegal hutments which came up before January 1, 2000. Water may be supplied through different methods than how it is supplied to authorised households. We make it clear that while making provisions for supply of water, payment of water charges may be higher than the rate at which it is provided to legal households by BMC,’’ said the judges. According to the HC, while BMC may not provide water supply through water pipes, it could look at the suggestion of providing water through pre-paid cards.
The BMC has been asked to come up with a policy for water supply by the end of February 2015. Further, the HC has directed BMC to take action against illegal structures in Mumbai. “We order the BMC that it will be under obligation to prevent illegal construction and carry out demolition action against structures that came up after January 1, 2000.’’ The Court further said that a person living in an illegal slum cannot claim the same rights as a law abiding citizen. “A citizen who stays in an illegal slum or structure cannot claim this right to get water supply at par with law abiding citizens who have constructed and occupied authorised structures,” said the Court. Pointing to the failure of all concerned authorities to prevent such illegal structures from coming up and failure of taking action against them, the HC further said, “At two stages, the state government came out with a regularisation policy for such hutments till a certain date. Such decisions, perhaps, may be the reason why they occupy such hutments, in the hope that the government will get a third policy decision.”
The BMC has been asked to file a compliance affidavit by March 2, 2015. “If there is any prohibition to supplying water in any particular area, the policy will not apply to such areas,’’ said the court. The BMC had earlier stated that it was providing water to buildings without occupation certificates on humanitarian grounds. The court also pointed out that several government employees such as police constables, inspectors employees of public sector undertakings living in the slums.