The Supreme Court Thursday stayed Uttarakhand high court’s order for evictions in Haldwani that threatened to displace more than 50,000 people, most of whom are Muslim.
Shruti Sharma & Afnan Habib | TwoCircles.net
HALDWANI (UTTARAKHAD) — The Supreme Court’s order to stay Uttarakhand High Court’s decision to remove encroachments from railway land in Haldwani has come as a relief to the local residents.
The residents welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court saying their prayers have been answered.
“We want to thank the Supreme Court from the bottom of our hearts that they [judges] gave an order in our favour. It is the result of prayers of lacs of aggrieved people,” said 42-year-old Mohammad Nayeem, a resident of Haldwani.
Children held signs thanking the Supreme Court for its order. Young girls are now hoping to go back to school without the fear of demolition of their homes looming over their heads.
“I was very happy to hear the Supreme Court order. The order is in our favour and hopefully future orders [in the case] will also be in our favour,” said Sadaf, a school going girl said.
Sadaf said that their only hope now is that they should be allowed to live permanently in the area.
Sharafat Ali Khan, one of the petitioners in the case, told TwoCircles.net that people have heaved a sigh of relief after the Supreme Court’s order.
“The high court order was harsh and had left people anxious. This stay order by the apex court comes as a relief,” Khan said.
Thousands of Haldwani residents, especially women, have been holding candlelight marches, peaceful sit-ins, and prayers to stop the eviction.
On December 20, the High Court ordered the removal of 4,365 “illegal encroachments” spread over 78 acres of land from the area, which it observed was railway land. Residents of Haldwani, some of whom have been living here for decades, have since protested against the court order, TwoCircles.net earlier reported.
‘This is our home from generations:’ residents of Haldwani on eviction orders
Taking exception to the High Court’s direction to remove the occupants in seven days, the Supreme Court observed “there cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in 7 days,” LiveLaw reported.
Supreme court has stressed the human aspect of the case, as thousands of people are involved, Khan said, noting that “the apex court also notified that it was impossible to evict such a large number of people just like that.”
In its order, the top court said that there needs to be clarity on whether complete land vests in Railways or what land belongs to the state. “50,000 people cannot be evicted overnight.”
The order was issued by a bench comprising Justices SK Kaul and Abhay S. Oka, who also served a notice to the Railways and the Uttarakhand government. The top court posted the matter to February 7, 2023, asking the state and the Railways to find a “practical solution”.
The bench expressed particular concern about the fact that many of the residents have resided there for a long time and assert rights based on leases and auction sales.
“There are two aspects of the issue. One, they claim leases. Two, they say people migrated after 1947, and the lands were auctioned. People stayed there for so many years. Some rehabilitation has to be given. There are establishments there. How can you say in seven days clear them off?” Justice SK Kaul asked.
“What is troubling us is how you deal with the scenario of people who have purchased the land in the auction. You may acquire the land and utilize it. Other is people have lived there for 50-60 years; some rehabilitation scheme has to be done, even assuming it is railway land”, Justice Kaul added.
What did the petition filed by residents demand?
The petition filed by some of the residents of Haldwani to challenge the Uttarakhand high court order highlighted that the petitioners are poor people who have been lawful residents of Mohalla Nai Basti, Haldwani district for more than 70 years.
As per the petitioner Khan, the Uttarakhand High Court ordered the summary eviction of more than 20,000 people residing in more than 4000 houses despite the fact that proceedings regarding the title of the residents were pending before the district magistrate.
The petition stated that the names of local residents are entered in the municipal records of house tax register and that they have been paying house tax regularly for years.
“There are 5 government schools, one hospital and two overhead water tanks in the area,” the petition said.
It further stated that the long settled physical possession of the petitioners and their ancestors, some even prior to the date of Indian independence, has been recognized by the State and its agencies and they have been given gas and water connections and even Aadhaar card numbers accepting their residential addresses.
Shruti Sharma is a freelance journalist based out of New Delhi. She tweets @imsshruti77
Afnan Habib is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. He tweets @afnanhabib_
[Edited by Irfan Mehraj. Tweets at @IrfanMeraj]