Updated: December 17, 2021 3:32:43 am
The Supreme Court Thursday allowed the Railways to proceed with the eviction of unauthorised settlements on its land earmarked for the proposed Surat-Jalna route, but not before pulling it up for failing to prevent encroachment despite maintaining a Railway Protection Force and having a special enactment that enables it to do so.
A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar said that the Railways may immediately issue notices to occupants of illegal structures and give them two weeks to vacate the premises. For structures that do not require to be vacated immediately, four weeks may be given, said the bench that also comprised Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar.
“In either case, if occupants fail to vacate unauthorised structure, it will be open to Western Railways to initiate appropriate legal action and forcible removal of unauthorised structure by taking help of local police force,” the court ruled.
Hearing a plea seeking directions for the rehabilitation of those who will be displaced, the top court said the Collector of the district concerned must gather the names and details of such people before commencing the process of eviction. This is for providing suitable accommodation to “deserving and eligible persons”, said the bench.
The court said solatium of Rs 2,000 should be paid for each structure by the entity owning the land — that is the local and state governments.
“Amount shall be initially paid by the Collector for a period of 6 months only to be shared equally by the owner of the land (local and state government),” it said, adding that affected persons can apply for rehabilitation if the local government has such schemes.
The court added that if there is no scheme formulated and in force by local authority, the persons likely to be affected by the action of demolition can apply for allocation of premise through ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ provided it is processed within 6 months.
Western Railways had argued that the primary responsibility of ensuring no encroachment takes place on any property is of local government and state government.
But the court said: “Although the argument appears substantive in first blush, (it) does not impress us as Railway enactment allows them to safeguard their property and they also have a Railway force to safeguard their property wherever located.”
“You want your property back and you are the Union, you have to take financial responsibility. Why are you spending so much on police force if you cannot manage your own property? Only issuing circulars won’t help,” the bench told Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj. “We hold Railways equally responsible for this situation and they are bound to provide support to the persons who are likely to be affected by this demolition.”
The court said encroachment of public land has been a “sad reality” in the country over the last 75 years.
“Primary duty to see that there is no encroachment of public land is duty of local government. It’s time local govt wakes upto this situation. It’s a sad story continuing for 75 years. This is the sad story of this country. Some may encroach. It is removed and another encroaches. It is ultimately the taxpayers money which goes down the drain,” the court said.
Pointing out that the Railways has the power to initiate criminal action against unauthorised occupants, the apex court said it must resort to such proceedings immediately after it is brought to the notice of officials concerned.
Earlier, the Gujarat HC had dismissed the plea following which a plea was filed in the form of PIL in the SC.