The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the Uttarkhand High Court’s order to evict nearly 4,000 families from the Railways land in Haldwani, Uttarakhand, where protests have broken out.
Delivering its order, the SC ruled, "There needs to be clarity on whether complete land vests in Railways or what land belongs to the state... 50,000 people cannot be evicted overnight."
Starting Sunday, around 4,000 families living in unauthorised colonies near Haldwani railway station started receiving eviction notices with a 7-day period to vacate the area, following an order from the Uttarakhand High Court.
While the apex court has postponed the matter for its next hearing on Februrary 7, we look at the chain of events that led to the eviction notice and the matter being taken to the SC.
What is the land dispute?
The land dispute dates back to a 1907 government record based on which the Gafoor Basti claim their ownership of the land. Some of the families residing there claim that the plots of land were purchased by their ancestors from the Custodian Department of the Government of India. The plots were part of the “nazul land” or government land used for non-agricultural but public purposes.
According to a statement by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the land dispute has been of 29 acres of land while people living in 79 acres of land have been served the notice. And this would render more than 50,000 people homeless.
What has the High Court said?
The HC has said that the record was a mere ‘Office Memorandum’ and any transaction of the land is now deemed invalid.
It observed that “a railway line was laid down by a Company in the year 1884, and it was later on transferred to the Government of India in 1943.”
Further, it relied on a 1959 notification of the vesting of land with the Railways.
According to a report by Indian Express, in a statement, the HC stated, “This fact has already been dealt by this Court, that in view of the notification of vesting of land with the Railways, as issued way back in 1959, it has also been a case of one of the interveners, that the railway lines in Haldwani stood established as back as on 1834, and at point of time, it was being operated by a private Railway Agency, and it was later on subsequently to the enforcement of the Railways Act, the management, control and establishment of the Railways of the North Eastern Region was vested with the Government of India.”
In 2016, for the first time, the Court ordered Railways to remove encroachment in the area following which the state sought a review of that ruling, which was dismissed in 2017.
On December 20, last year, the Uttarakhand High Court ordered the demolition of constructions over encroached railway land at Banbhoolpura in Haldwani. Following this, the railway officials said they have begun the process of demolishing the houses and other structures built on the 2.2 km strip of railway land.
What has the SC observed?
A bench comprising Justice SK Kaul and Justice Abhay S Oka emphasises that it's a human issue and a "workable solution" must be found out to not evict people in Haldwani’s Banbhoolpura area in the biting cold.
“There is a human angle to the problem, these are people. Something will have to be worked out,” Justice SK Kaul noted.
It said that a rehabilitation of the families needs to be first sought while keeping in mind the needs of the Railways department.
The court also stopped any construction in the area and sought responses from the railways and the Uttarakhand government.
Supreme Court Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices SA Nazeer and PS Narasimha took up the case a day after activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan made a formal request.