Supreme Court’s Haldwani Order Provides Timely Relief and Future Guidance

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There were strong reasons why the issue of impending demolitions in Haldwani had so quickly led to national level sympathy and support for the threatened nearly 50,000 people, and there are equally strong reasons why the Supreme Court order of January 5 providing relief to them deserves widespread appreciation.

It is obvious that the badly threatened, deeply worried people, faced with immediate eviction in the middle of cold wave conditions, felt a great sense of relief, and for this alone we are grateful to the learned judges of the Supreme Court of India. But in addition there is another reason for very widespread appreciation of this order and this relates to the stand taken by the honorable court that on such matters land records are not the only matter, the distress suffered by the people and considerations of their welfare are no less important and neither the government authorities nor the judiciary should ignore this dimension.

Unfortunately the concerned authorities and even more surprisingly the High Court had not shown the due regard for this, to use mild words, with a call having been given for not just very hurried demolition/eviction but even securing the help of paramilitary forces to accomplish this. Hence the timely intervention of the Supreme Court has managed to save all round distress and bitterness.

At the same time the stand that the apex court has taken that such issues are settled best not just by land record intricacies but in addition necessarily also involve humanitarian considerations should serve as a very useful guidepost for the judiciary as well as government authorities. In fact it is these humanitarian considerations that are often missing in decision making on such matters and the Supreme Court has done well to set the record straight and provide its guidance for improvement in keeping with the constitutional provisions of a welfare state.

The court has stated that the issue has a ‘human angle’. Many proceedings under the Public Premises Act were instituted ex parte against the families during the COVID-19 pandemic. A balance is needed between the railways’ need to develop the land and the families’ right to live with dignity. While the rights of the various families on land have to be examined in more detail, even those who are found to have no rights but have been living there for years need to be rehabilitated. “They cannot be uprooted overnight from landn”, Justice S.K. Kaul said. “It was not right to order bringing in para-milirary forces”, Justice A.S.Oka stated.

One hopes that this Supreme Court case which has started with such high hopes for vulnerable and threatened people will also end on a note of equal sense of justice for them. Meanwhile we can at least rest assured that with many eminent lawyers appearing on behalf of these people, the earlier strong and bitter sense of injustice has been removed when they were being asked to leave even without even giving them a fair hearing. The longer term contribution of the January 5 hearing will be that of very timely relief as well as a future guidepost for keeping in consideration welfare and humanitarian issues while hearing land issues involving vulnerable sections.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.

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