Bombay High Court: While emphasizing the aspect of encroachment of public land, the Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and G.S. Kulkarni, J., observed that,
“It is not new that valuable Government land on account of the negligent approach of the officers in charge by not protecting such lands from encroachment have stood extinguished from the Government’s holding, causing a serious cascading effect.”
Aggrieved by the public notice issued by respondent 1 – the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, petitioners were to be rehabilitated being affected by Pune Metro Rail Project.
Petitioners contended that under the State’s policy, being slum dwellers, they have a status of being protected occupiers, who would be required to be rehabilitated by allotment of a free of cost permanent alternate accommodation in case land below the slum is sought to be utilized for public purpose.
Further, the petitioners contend that the slum dwellers society had opposed the passing of the Pune Metro through the slum land, so did the developers. They also suggested realignment of the metro track, however, sans success.
High Court noted that the petitioners who had initially encroached on the Government land and remained on the same for some time to fall within the beneficial policy of the State Government of being protected slum dwellers, cannot elevate their protection to such an extent that such slum dwellers have to be rehabilitated either on the same land, if any remaining after the project work is completed within the vicinity.
Bench opined that 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, more particularly when those who are custodians of the public land are well aware that encroachments for long periods will clothe the encroachers with rights to seek rehabilitation at public costs under the prevalent Government policies.
Violation of Public Trust Doctrine
Government on account of negligent approach by not protecting public lands from encroachment is later required to acquire the same from private holdings, causing an unwarranted burden on the public exchequer and a sheer waste of taxpayers money.
Despite the might machinery, Government doesn’t protect its valuable land resulting into the grossest violation of public trust doctrine as a result of patent abuse of powers vested in such Government machinery is not protecting public property.
Court added that it wonders as to whether at any point of time an audit in regard to encroached government land in State of Maharashtra was undertaken. As to how many such lands have vanished due to encroachment and whether any steps to preserve the same have been taken – these are certain questions to be answered to “we the people” and accountability fixed for negligence.
Bench hoped that the Government awakens on such issues before it is too late and restores all the encroached Government lands for public benefit.
The above would certainly require a genuine political will and consciousness towards larger public benefit.
Coming to the present matter, High Court expressed that,
Mere right of rehabilitation cannot be recognized to be equivalent to a right of ownership or as if it is some compensation being offered to the slum dwellers for their encroachment and occupation of Government land.
In the present matter, the petitioners were not denied the benefit of rehabilitation, infact they were called upon by several notices for allotment of premises, but they took an unreasonable adamant stand and refused the benefit.
Opining that the present petition was not filed bonafide, Court stated that the petition appeared to be a patent abuse of process of law.
While imposing costs of Rs 5,000 the petition was dismissed. [Abdul Majid Vakil Ahmad Patvekari v. Slum Rehabilitation Authority, WP No. 3983 of 2021, decided on 31-08-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
Mr. Nikhil Wadikar i/b. Mr. Rajesh Katore for the petitioners.
Mr. Deepak R. More for respondent no. 1.
Mr. B.V. Samant, AGP for the State.
Mr. S.K. Mishra, Senior Advocate a/w. Mr. Pralhad D. Paranjape and Mr. Kaustubh Deogade for respondent nos. 4 and 5.