In an order that may have far reaching consequences for the state capital, the Bombay high court (HC) has held that slum dwellers cannot insist on getting rehabilitated on site or in the vicinity and dismissed a petition filed by residents of a notified slum in Shivajinagar, Pune that will be demolished in order to make way for a metro line.
The order was delivered by a division bench comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni last week, but the 11-page document was uploaded late Monday.
The Pune metro line between Vanaz and Ramwadi stations is expected to pass through the Kamgar Putala slum, a notified slum pocket home to 1,264 hutments. Three residents moved the HC after the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) issued an ultimatum on May 21 asking them to vacate their hutments within 10 days. At present, part of the slum stands demolished and work on the metro line is progressing.
“At the outset, we may observe that the petitioners who have encroached cannot elevate their protection to such an extent that such slum dwellers have to be rehabilitated either on the same land or be provided a permanent alternate accommodation within the vicinity,” a division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni said, dismissing the petition filed by Abdul Majid Patvekari and two others on July 15.
The HC bench expressed “grave doubts” over the policy of the state government “which rewards the encroachers of the public land by a free of cost accommodation.”
“In our opinion, such policies qua the Government land not only violate the principles of equality but certainly falls foul of the doctrine of public trust,” the bench said.
On their part, the petitioners claimed that they had the right to be rehabilitated on site as they are eligible and protected residents of the slum.
Under the Maharashtra Slums Act (1995), occupants of notified slums can form a society and appoint a developer for implementing slum rehabilitation schemes on their own, which would need the approval of the SRA. All slum dwellers settled on public lands before January 1, 2000, should be treated as eligible for rehabilitation and should be protected, according to the act.
Housing minister Satej Patil said that the state government would study the order before undertaking further steps. “We will study to order as our aim is not to cause inconvenience to the slum dwellers as well as boost the slum revamp process. After that we will take further action,” he said.
The petitioners said that they came to know about the metro line passing through their slum pocket, in 2019. Following this, they made representations to various authorities to realign the line so that the slum dwellers were rehabilitated at the site and did not have to be shifted to distant places.
They asked in their petition to be rehabilitated in the balance land after the completion of the metro line construction. Alternatively, they prayed for rehabilitation within a radius of two km of the slum.
The HC dismissed the plea, observing that the right of slum dwellers to get rehabilitated cannot be stretched to the extent to claim rehabilitation on site.
“In our clear opinion, any encroachment on public land at the threshold ought not to be tolerated and prompt action is required to be taken to remove such encroachment,” the bench said.
Experts said that the judgment would likely have far-reaching consequences in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where similar infrastructure projects were also held up on account of the rehabilitation of slum residents.
“Our urban centres face a scarcity of land and we cannot offer rehabilitation nearby due to various constraints. This will speed the pace of projects,” said a senior Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to the SRA, Mumbai has around 6.2 million citizens residing in 1.25 million slums. Till date, residents of only 210,000 slums have been rehabilitated. “The judgement will offer flexibility in rehabilitation and housing schemes will get boost,” an officer of the SRA department said on condition of anonymity.
Housing rights activist Bilal Khan of Ghar Bachao-Ghar Banao Andolan said slum dwellers are opposed to shifting to far off places because of livelihood opportunities. Shifting to far off places, Khan said, also affects the education of their children. “Rehabilitation camps mostly comprise only housing and are not only located outside city limits, but also lack necessary facilities like hospitals, schools, markets etc.,” he said.
In the 11-page order, the HC also expressed a dire need of undertaking an audit of encroached government lands or lands belonging to public authorities. “As to how many such lands have vanished due to encroachment and as to what steps have been taken to preserve such lands are questions which need to be answered to “we the people” and accountability fixed for negligence in this regard.”
“We hope that the Government awakens on such issues before it is too late and restores all the encroached Government lands for the benefit of public and strictly to be used for public purposes. This would certainly require a genuine political will and consciousness towards larger public benefit,” the order read.
Deepak Goradia, President, Maharashtra Chambers of Housing Industry (MCHI- CREDAI) welcomed the order. “It will give boost to slum rehabilitation schemes and even the slum dwellers will be benefitted by new homes,” he said.
“We have witnessed in the past how slum dwellers held up the Airport land and metro projects insisting on in situ rehabilitation. The projects suffered immensely and delayed increasing the costs considerably. The verdict clears the hurdles,” said Gulam Zia, executive director, Knight Frank India, a real estate consultancy firm.
(With inputs of Naresh Kamath)