New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday directed Haryana and the Faridabad municipal corporation to remove “all encroachments”, consisting around 10,000 residential construction, in Aravalli forest area near a village, saying “land grabbers cannot take refuge of rule of law” and talk of “fairness”.
A vacation bench of justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari sought compliance report from state government officials after removing all encroachments from forest land near Lakarpur Khori village in Faridabad district within six weeks.
“In our opinion, the petitioners are bound by the directions given by the high court (of Punjab and Haryana) and reiterated by this court in order dated February 19, 2020 and again on April 5, 2021 in another proceedings pending before this court with regard to the same subject matter,” the bench said.
“Therefore, we reiterate our directions given to the corporation as well to the state of Haryana as noted in the stated orders of this court and expect that the corporation will take all essential measures to remove encroachments on the subject forest land without any exception, not later than six weeks from today and submit a compliance report in that behalf, under the signature of the Chief Executive Officer of the corporation,” the bench said in its order.
The top court passed the order after hearing a plea filed by five alleged encroachers against the demolition drive of the civic body.
The bench said relief claimed by petitioners in the plea “can be considered de-hors compliance of the directions given on earlier occasions by this court in orders dated February 19, 2020 and April 5, 2021 respectively”.
It said secretary of the state forest department shall also “cause to verify the factual situation regarding encroachments on the subject forest land and submit independent compliance report under his signature”.
“After those certificates are submitted within six weeks as aforesaid, the court may consider of passing further directions including regarding due verification of factual statement recorded in the certificates through an independent agency,” the bench said and made clear that state may consider the plea of rehabilitation independently.
It said the state and local police shall give necessary logistical support to enable the corporation to implement the directions given by court to “evict the occupants/encroachers including by forcible eviction from the subject forest land and to clear all the encroachments therefrom.”
It said Superintendent of Police, Faridabad, shall be personally responsible for ensuring adequate logistical support and police protection to the officials of corporation.
“We further make it clear that the Chief Executive Officer of the corporation and the Secretary of the forest department shall be personally responsible to oversee the implementation of the directions given in this order and submit their compliance report(s) within six weeks,” it said and posted the matter for July 27.
During the hearing conducted via video-conferencing, the bench took note of the submission that illegal dwellers have no place to go and the state be directed to rehabilitate them before their eviction, saying the “land grabbers cannot take refuge in the rule of law” and talk of “fairness”.
“Let the people be accommodated as soon as they are evicted,” senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, said.
“Who is asking this? Land grabbers! When you come to court you become honest and law abiding and on site, you do not do anything lawful,” the bench observed during the hearing.
In the first round of litigation, we were unable to get a favourable order for getting the demolition stopped, Gonsalves said, adding that “people should be rehabilitated and the right to housing cannot be denied”.
“We had passed an interim order in February, 2020 and since it is an encroachment of forest land, it has to be vacated and if in future, the state government wants to accommodate you that is up to the state,” the bench observed.
The bench said that it would be asking the civic body, as to why the encroachments have not been removed despite its February 2020 order on it.
So far as forest land is concerned, there was no question of compromise irrespective of the policy, the bench said.
“Why have they not been removed,” the bench asked the counsel appearing for Haryana after he replied affirmatively to the query whether the petitioners were living on forest land.
“First forest land has to be cleared. No concession with regard to the forest land. Do not give us COVID excuses. File a compliance report,” it said, adding that it may be a case where some are in “hand in glove” with encroachers.
“Demolition is taking place,” the counsel for the state said.
The bench asked Gonsalves to advise petitioners to vacate the land on their own; otherwise, the state and the municipal corporation will clear the land.
“When you come here Gonsalves, you speak of rule of law, is this rule of law. You grab forest land and then you ask a policy to be formulated,” the bench said.
The bench said it was not dismissing the plea and kept it pending because it wanted its order to be complied with.
The petition, filed through advocate Satya Mitra, has challenged the Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran Rehabilitation Policy to the extent it limits the cut-off for rehabilitation to 2003.
It has also sought stay on demolition of about 10,000 houses at Khori Gaon in Haryana’s Faridabad.