“We want our forest land to be cleared”, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while refusing to stay its direction asking Haryana and the Faridabad municipal corporation to remove encroachments, consisting around 10,000 residential constructions, in Aravali forest area near Khori village.
The court termed as “misconceived” the grievance of the petitioners, who were seeking stay on demolition of the constructions, that they are not allowed to produce documents in support of their eligibility regarding rehabilitation under the existing scheme.
“The concerned occupants of the unauthorized structures standing on the forest land were given sufficient opportunity to do so after notification was issued by the corporation in 2020, after the order dated February 19, 2020 was passed by this court,” a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari said in its order.
“Needless to observe, this court had already recorded the assurance given by the corporation that action against unauthorized structures standing on the forest land will be taken by following due process and in accordance with law, including to examine the claim of the occupants for rehabilitation as per the existing rehabilitation scheme,” it said. “That assurance has been reiterated and is so recorded in this order as well”.
The top court noted that grievance of the petitioners that they are not in a position to produce title documents as these structures are erected on forest land belonging to the state, “does not take the matter further”.
It said that petitioners and similarly placed persons are and were obliged to produce documents before the corporation in support of their claim regarding rehabilitation under the existing scheme but they failed to do so.
“The corporation and state authorities may proceed on the basis of the commitment given to the court on the earlier occasion to comply with the directions given in order dated June 7, 2021. Nothing more is required to be said in this petition,” the bench said.
“In our opinion, no indulgence can be shown to the petitioners and similarly placed persons who are bound by the earlier order dated June 7, 2021 passed by this court,” it said.
The court, while hearing a separate plea on the issue on June 7, had directed the state and the Faridabad municipal corporation to remove “all encroachments” in the Aravali forest area, saying “land grabbers cannot take refuge of rule of law” and talk of “fairness”.
It had also sought compliance report from the state government officials after removing all encroachments from forest land near Khori village in Faridabad district within six weeks.
In its order passed on Thursday, the court said as the larger issue related to the matter is pending in separate petition, this plea would be heard along with that on July 27.
“We make it clear that the pendency of this matter will not come in the way of the authorities to proceed against the unauthorized structures standing on the forest land in conformity with the statement recorded hitherto,” the bench said.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, advocate Aparna Bhat, appearing for the petitioners said there are around 10,000 families in the village.
“Please don’t give us numbers. It makes no difference. We want our forest land to be cleared,” the bench said, adding, “We have given enough time. The notification was issued but you continued there at your own risk”.
“This is forest land. This is not ordinary land,” the bench observed.
Bhat argued about rehabilitation and said that state authority has not taken up the issue of eligibility and identification process has not been done.
The bench referred to its April 5 order, passed in a matter related to the issue, and said the civic body will take steps in accordance with law.
“You have to evict them in accordance with law. You have to give benefit of scheme (of rehabilitation) to those who are eligible,” the bench told the counsel appearing for the municipal corporation.
Bhat argued that authority has come there to forcibly evict those who are living there and before the demolition, they should do the exercise of verification.
“Look at these people and their situation. They are migrant labourers. There are children,” Bhat said and also referred to the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
“That is for the state to do. We are only concerned with vacation of forest area. We have given enough time earlier,” the bench observed.
When Bhat referred to global guidelines for non-eviction during pandemic, the bench said, “We are not concerned with global guidelines. This issue is going on for long.”
At the fag end of hearing, the counsel appearing for Haryana, said there are incidents of stone pelting when demolition work is carried out and some directions be given so that the process is peaceful.
“You know what you have to do. We don’t want to say on this. We want our order to be complied with,” the bench said.
The top court had passed the June 7 order after hearing a separate plea filed by five alleged encroachers against the demolition drive of civic body.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)