The Bombay high court held that squatters on railway land cannot be protected and rehabilitated under the Maharashtra government’s policy to protect and rehabilitate certain slum dwellers.
“The Slum Act can’t be applied to public properties,” said the division bench of justice SC Dharmadhikari and justice BP Colabawalla. “The act makes provisions for the clearance and redevelopment of slums in the state. It only applies to properties, which by their very nature, can be termed ‘slums’,” it added.
The court rejected petitions filed by Asha Shikhare and Basil Barnes, who stay in encroachments on railway lands at Goregaon (East). It also directed them to pay Rs5 lakh to the railway administration within eight weeks, failing which, their belongings will be attached and sold to recover the cost.
Shikhare and Barnes had asked the court to declare them ‘protected occupiers’ under the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971. This would mean that they cannot be evicted from railway land under provisions of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971. They also sought a declaration that the state was bound to rehabilitate them as eligible slum dwellers.
The bench rejected their pleas, noting that the remedy under Article 226 of the Constitution of India (power of the court to issue certain writs) was “not available to encroachers and law breakers who, with impunity, enter into public properties and proceed to construct structures on them without any right or semblance of permission.”
The bench noted that another division bench of the high court had earlier directed railway administration to evict unauthorised occupants and initiate action against them under provisions of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971.
In view of this, the bench held that as the very act of encroaching upon railway property is a punishable offence and the power to evict encroachers is constitutionally valid, it cannot overlook orders and defeat their implementation by entertaining the petitions.
“The petitions were a back-door method of trying to perpetuate the illegal occupation of public premises,” the bench said.