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As Supreme Court says 50,000 people cannot be uprooted overnight, here is how 1 lakh people were displaced during the Khori Gaon eviction

On July 16, 2021, UNHCR had appealed to the Indian government to halt the encroachment clearance drive in Khori Gaon.

In Uttarakhand’s Haldwani, protests erupted against the clearance of illegal encroachments on railway lands following the High Court order. The protests started after Uttarakhand High Court, on December 26, 2022, ordered the authorities to immediately evict the illegal occupants to vacate the land belonging to the Indian Railways.  

The protestors, backed by the usual players like Asaduddin Owaisi, Amnesty India, and others desperate to revive a Shaheen Bagh at Haldwani, claimed that the removal of illegal encroachments will leave them homeless and affect a large number of women, children, and elders. 

Amidst the leftist propaganda machinery gearing up to exploit the issue by giving it a communal angle and propagating that the illegal encroachers (mostly Muslim residents in this case) are being oppressed by a Hindu nationalist party, the Supreme Court has put a stay on removal of illegal encroachments in Haldwani.

The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Abhay S Oka heard multiple petitions challenging the High Court order which directed clearance of illegal encroachments. During the hearing, the Supreme Court judges opined that 50,000 persons cannot be relocated in seven days. As Justice SK Kaul heard the case, he stated that there are numerous parts to the issue, that people have been living on the land for years, and that there are establishments.

However, on June 7, 2021, Supreme Court had directed the removal of illegal encroachments on forest land in Khori Gaon, a village at the foothills of the eco-sensitive Aravallis in Haryana’s Faridabad within six weeks. The SC order had come while hearing a plea seeking a stay on the demolition of 10,000 houses in the area. The apex court back then observed that no compromise can be made with forest lands. 

Later, on June 17, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld its decision to clear the illegal encroachments on forest lands and evict 100,000 people from the encroached forest land. 

Back then, the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari heard the matter and directed that the State of Haryana could proceed with the demolition. In a similar scenario, as is now in Haldwani, the illegal encroachers in Khori Gaon had submitted before the Supreme Court that the removal of encroachments would leave them homeless.

The counsel for the petitioners had also sought the protection of their right to rehabilitation as well as an identification process, to which the Supreme Court bench had rejected the petitioner’s argument. The honourable court stated that enough time was given to them and also stated that it is only concerned about the forest lands and rehabilitation is to be taken care of by the state government. 

“We gave orders, you have been there at your own risk. This is forest land, not any ordinary land. When you want the scheme to be extended, you need to provide additional documents and details. One year was already given to you,” the Supreme Court said back then.

On July 16, 2021, UNHCR had appealed to the Indian government to halt the encroachment clearance drive in Khori Gaon and also expressed concern that “the Indian Supreme Court which has in the past led the protection of housing rights is now leading evictions.”

Interestingly, the Supreme Court in March 2022 held that the “environment is more important than your civil rights,” while hearing the petitions that addressed the issue of forest and non-forest land in relation to the interplay of provisions of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, and the land that is part of the Faridabad Complex (Regulation and Development) Act, 1971.

While hearing the pleas back then, Justice M Khanwilkar observed, “Environment is more important than your civil rights. Your civil rights are subordinate to the environment. Once a forest, it is always a forest unless it is denotified.”

The Supreme Court upheld the importance of the environment in the Khori Gaon case over the civil rights of people and ordered the demolition of illegal encroachments on forest lands. Although the apex court also directed the state government to look after the rehabilitation of the displaced people. However, in the case of illegal encroachment of Indian Railways land the Supreme Court has put a stay on the encroachment clearance drive. While the Supreme Court has asked the government to ensure the rehabilitation of the valid residents and find a suitable solution for the encroachers, the petitioners have not sought rehabilitation as they claim ownership of the land.

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