Gujarat High Court has directed the state government to formulate new housing policies for the downtrodden strata of the society, or lines of policies for commercial or industrial zones. The bench noted that the right to shelter cannot mean the right to encroach.
The High Court bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala refused the relief while hearing the petition filed by slum dwellers in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. They were evacuated and their houses were demolished by the railway authority as its land had been encroached upon in 1990.
While denying relief, the bench observed that though the economically weaker sections have the basic human and constitutional right to shelter, it doesn’t give them the right to encroach upon public places, erect structures, or otherwise on the ground that they don’t have another place to go.
The court further observed, “Merely claiming possession of public land by way of encroachment, and having documents like voter card, ration card, electricity bill, etc., is not sufficient to say the encroachers are not liable to be evicted as they have a right to shelter.”
The bench further stated, “An encroacher can save himself from being forcibly evicted only if during his period of stay over the encroached land, any enforceable legal right has crystallized in his favour. This legal right does not mean the mere constitutional right to shelter. The State government should identify and earmark certain lands acquired under the Land Ceiling Act and frame a uniform policy to allot them in accordance with their people hailing from a very poor strata of the society.”
“We remind the State government that when it plans an industrial or commercial zone, provisions should also be made for providing residential accommodation to the downtrodden class or those taking up employment in industries and providing ancillary services,” the court said.
The bench also said, “It is a vicious cycle of population growth, opportunities in the cities leading to migration to the cities, poverty with low incomes, tendency to be closer to work; so occupying any land in the vicinity leads to eventual formation of such slums. We have no hesitation in saying that despite so many laws, judicial activism shown by the SC, over a period of time including the various HCs, the problem of adequate housing in India has not been addressed properly.”