Land meant for government institutions has "vanished" on account of encroachments, the Bombay High Court remarked while hearing a petition filed by slum dwellers seeking rehabilitation on the same land on which the Maharashtra government was setting up a project.
The Bench observed that valuable government land stood extinguished due to encroachments on their land and the negligent approach of officers.
The effect was such that whenever land was then required for a public purpose, the government was required to acquire the same from private holdings, causing an unwarranted burden on the public exchequer and wastage of taxpayer money.
The Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni suggested to the civic authorities that prompt action was required to be taken to remove any encroachment on government land.
The order stated that such inaction, in our opinion, amounts to the grossest violation of the public trust doctrine as a result of the patent abuse of the powers vested in such Government machinery is not protecting public property.
The observations came in a plea filed by three slum dwellers who approached the Court aggrieved by a public notice issued by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA), Pune, by which the petitioners along with other slum dwellers were to be rehabilitated for a metro train rail project.
They sought rehabilitation on the government land or some land in the vicinity. Their grievance was that they were being rehabilitated to a site quite far away from the present location of the slum land, which they claimed was prejudicial to their interest.
The SRA had allegedly issued notices regarding relocation and allotment of land to the slum dwellers and even visited individual hutments to ensure that they were evacuated at the earliest.
The petitioners' contention was that under State policy, they were protected occupiers who would be required to be rehabilitated by allotment of a free-of-cost permanent alternate accommodation, in case the land below the slum is sought to be utilized for public purpose.
Expressing its astonishment at such a petition, the Court observed that the petitioners who continued to encroach on the State land could not elevate their protection to demand rehabilitation on the same land (if any remaining) after completion of projection.
Mere rights of rehabilitation cannot be equivalent to a right of ownership, the Court clarified, adding that if the insistence of the petitioners is accepted through a State undertaking, it would be impossible to plan any public project using the Government land for the benefit of the public at large.
The Court observed that if the petitioners are not interested to have permanent alternate premises offered to them free of cost, it is deemed that they have relinquished such benefit, and in that event, the SRA would not have any obligation to grant them any allotment.
The Bench also took note of the fact that the slum society had filed a separate writ petition which was pending. In light of the same, the Court dismissed the present petition and also imposed costs of ?5,000 to be deposited with the Advocates Welfare Fund.