Friday, June 14, 2024

Haldwani eviction: How land dispute of 29 acres became 78 acres in HC order?

On Thursday, 05 January, the Supreme Court of India stayed a controversial order given by Uttarakhand High Court last month initiating a demolition drive in a Muslim-majority suburb in Haldwani.

The order asked Railways and local authorities to demolish the encroachment on railway land in Ghafoor Basti located in the Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani within a week.

High Court also had authorised the “use of force” to evict 4365 occupants which include government institutions, schools, businesses and residential buildings — an overwhelming amount of them belonging to Muslims.

This is not the first time, Supreme Court come to the rescue of residents of Haldwani Ghafoor Basti. In January 2017, Supreme Court stayed the order of the Uttarakhand High Court ordering the eviction of encroachment of land near the Haldwani railway station.

But back then the land area in dispute was 29 acres. But now Railway wants occupants from about 78 acres removed.

According to a dossier by activists, reviewed by Maktoob using legal documents, The issue of alleged encroachment came to the fore in 2007. It was said there is an encroachment on 29 acres of railway land near Haldwani railway station.

“The Railway in an affidavit filed in the same year informed the Hon’ble High Court of Uttarakhand that it has got cleared 10 of the 29 acres of land from encroachers and appealed to the court to pass an order, directing state authorities to help it get back the rest 19 acres. The issue subsided and no further demolition was carried out,” says the readout by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR).

Since the new HC order, thousands of residents are on the street decrying the “political vendetta” behind the eviction. Haldwani petitioners say the order has overturned a land dispute of 29 acres to a mass eviction that affects people residing on at least 78 acres of land.

“There cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in 7 days,” the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka said. The Apex Court also issued notice to the State of Uttarakhand and the Railways and urged them “to find a practical solution”.

“Nobody knows how Railway changed it from 29 acres to 78 acres,” Sharafat Khan, one of the early petitioners, told Maktoob.

According to several activists and lawyers related to the case, Railways have only submitted a list of 4365 occupants whom they label “encroachers”, but no documents that show the boundaries of land they claim.

Although Railways have submitted a sketch which says 31.07 hectares (76.775642 acres) is the approximate encroachment area, they have not provided any documents to support it.

In fact, the State government, until last year, was a party in the case, appealing the land belongs to the state.

The silence of the State government has been called out a “political”.

Supreme Court’s stay order begins with it:

“Learned ASG has emphasized the need of the Railways but the moot point to be considered would be the stand of the State Government also as to whether the complete land is to vest in the Railways or the State Government is claiming a part of the land,” reads the SC ruling.

“There are no official documents from Railways to prove it’s their land,” Kawalpreet Kaur, one of the counsels appearing in Supreme Court in the matter, told Maktoob.

Even the database of Land Conflict Watch, a data research agency, states the land in dispute is 12 hectares — 29 acres. They are referencing an order from 2016 that states,” It is brought to the notice of this Court that the area measuring 114000/- square meters has been encroached by the unscrupulous
persons. In other words, the land encroached is about 29 acres.”

According to Railway Ministry’s reply in the Lok Sabha on 30 March 2022, the North-Eastern zone of the railway, where Haldwani railway station in Uttarakhand is located, had 23.31 hectares of land encroached.

“State and Citywise details of encroachment by slums are not maintained,” the ministry said in their response.

When 23.31 hectares — in the whole North-Eastern zone — is converted, it becomes 57.600264 acres — still short of the area claimed in Ghafoor Basti alone.

According to petitioners, while Railways had no demarcation and official maps in their reports submitted to the court, residents produced plenty.

“Only residents submitted documents. Railways had no documents over their claims,” Kaur said.

According to the HC order, “Looking to the geographical constraints of the location of Haldwani Railway Station, since it adjoins the river-bed area of River Gola, the engineering lay out has had to be planned in a fashion in order to meet any future untoward contingency, which may be caused due to flood or any other geographical calamites, which cannot be perceived at a given moment of time, but there could be only a preparedness, and that preparedness in the present case, would require an availability of a land for the future development of the Railways. In such an eventuality or otherwise to meet the need of the growing township of Haldawni, where there is a regular and ever going on population explosion.”

In other words, the HC tells Railway in obscure ways that they can expand their land acquisition in “preparedness” for the future.

“We have cavil to the way the directions have been passed in the impugned order as there cannot be uprooting of 50 thousand people overnight within seven days,” SC order reads.

Sharjeel Usmani contributed to this report.

Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla
Shaheen Abdulla, an award-winning journalist, is the Deputy Editor of Maktoob.
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