- Recently, the court refused to grant a stay order concerning the demolition process of the 10,000 houses in the Khari Gaon region at Faridabad.
- On 7th June the Apex court ordered the removal of all the constructions encroaching upon the forest land within 6 weeks.
- There was a protest undertaken by the residents of Khori Gaon after the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of thousands of slum dwellers.
- According to the Top Court, it is concerned only with the encroachment upon the forest land, and rehabilitation and resettlement issues have to be handled by the State Government.
- The Court has also asked the DCP of Faridabad to grant protection to the Government Officials of Faridabad.
Conservation of forest land has now become an important issue. We have all witnessed global warming, untimely changes in the climate, air pollution, and plenty of other environmental issues because we have failed to protect the forests and the environment. Half of the issues are due to the chopping down of forests and trees for establishing industries or building residential colonies and complexes. This article deals with one such encroachment case going on in the Top Court of India relating to the settlements in the Khori Gaon area at Faridabad.
The Khori Gaon case deals with the encroachment on the forest lands of the Aravalli hills. The residents however claim that they have been living in the area for decades and have Aadhaar and residence proof for the same. There are not only residential constructions but also commercial constructions on the land and it is claimed that commercial constructions like resorts or hotels are overlooked by the Government while dealing with the encroachments. The case has been going on for over a year and the Supreme Court recently refused to grant a stay order on the demolition of the houses in the Khari Gaon area. This article focuses on the backstory of the settlements in the Aravalli area, the petition filed by the residents, and the recent Supreme Court orders. Keep reading to know more!
Initially, the houses in Khori Gaon came up during the mining activities in the Aravallis. However, between the 1990s and 2009, mining activities in the Aravallis were banned by the Supreme Court, and gave the Aravallis were given an additional layer of legal protection. Owing to these orders of the Supreme Court, lands regulated under the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 were to be treated as forest land notwithstanding the ownership of the land. The Indian Forest Act laws are applicable on these lands and no construction can be done without a permit under the Forest Conservation Act.
Located nearly 200 meters from five-star hotels, the small stone houses are situated on a portion of the low-lying Aravalli hills. There is no road except a cobbled inclined path leading to the colony. The residents are mostly daily wage workers and claim that they have been living in the area for decades. The Khori Gaon area was a settling area for miners before the mining activities were banned because of environmental concerns a decade ago. According to the residents, the demolition of some houses took place in April this year. Due to the Pandemic and lack of money, many residents continued to stay in the broken structures.
Even though the Forest Department claimed to have issued notices from time to time it had but a little success in dealing with forest encroachments. In the Khori Gaon cases, it has been claimed that the densely packed human settlement on 120 acres is essential to be demolished for forest conservation in the state.
After the Supreme Court ordered the eviction of thousands of houses, the residents of Khori Gaon took to the roads to protest against the demolition of their houses. There were more than 150 men, women, and children in the protest. They demanded rehabilitation before the demolition process.
PETITION FILED BY THE RESIDENTS
The residents of Khori Gaon had filed a separate plea in the Supreme Court in the matter concerning the demolition of 10,000 houses. There is a special leave petition relating to the Khori Gaon case in the Supreme Court as well.
The plea challenged the Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran Rehabilitation Policy and sought a stay on the demolition of 10,000 houses at Khori Gaon in Faridabad. The Petition stressed that the Supreme Court should consider that the residents of Khori Gaon not be evicted till the threat of the pandemic continues, as per the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization.
The Petition sought directions to the State of Haryana and the Municipal Council of Faridabad to gather all the necessary information from the people who are in occupation at Khori Gaon to facilitate their right to resettlement and rehabilitation before the eviction. It also sought directions to the State and Municipal Council to place the policy or legal framework concerning the resettlement and rehabilitation in consonance with Article 21 and law prevailing in other states before the Supreme Court.
The petition also urged the Court to direct the respondents to provide temporary shelter to the evicted residents of Khori Gaon. It highlighted that Right to housing has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a part and parcel of fundamental rights. The Petitioners also highlighted that the slum dwellers are entitled to rehabilitation as recognized by the State of Haryana via the Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran Rehabilitation Policy of 2010.
The Counsel appearing for Petitioners, Aparna Bhat submitted that the issue of eligibility had not been taken up by the State and demolitions were taking place. She submitted that people dwelling on the land had nowhere to go and were migrant labourers and children. On that, the Court replied that the court is only concerned with protecting the forest lands and the issues of resettlement and rehabilitation have to be dealt with by the State Government.
The Court held that the petitioners had enough time to vacate the forest land after February 2020 and that the Petitioners were obliged to produce the documents for the rehabilitation scheme which they failed to do. The Court remarked that if the Petitioners had produced the documents, rehabilitation would have been done by now.
On 7th June, the Bench of Hon’ble Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, while hearing the plea filed by the families living in Khori Gaon, had directed the removal of all encroachments on forest land at Khori Gaon in Faridabad within 6 weeks because no compromise can be made with forest lands. During the hearing yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay on the demolition of settlements at Khori Gaon in Faridabad. The Court made it clear that the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad will proceed as stated in February 2020 order and the demolition will take place according to the due process of law.
The Court further noted that the Petitioners could submit the documents for rehabilitation before the corporation. The Court also directed the State to give necessary logistical support to help the corporation to evict the residents and clear the encroachments.
The Hon’ble Apex Court also directed the DCP of Faridabad to provide police protection to the corporation officers. The Court made it clear that if it is not truthfully portrayed that the forest land has been cleared, there will be contempt action.
In my opinion, the Supreme Court’s orders are in favour of conservation of the environment and forest lands. Because of industrialization and increasing population, a lot of forest land was cleared in order to make arrangements for residences and industries, and this took a toll on the forest coverage in India. We are well aware of the effects that chopping down of forests and trees, increasing industrialization and population is causing. Even though the Supreme Court’s directions in the Khori Gaon case may cause many to lose their homes, it will still be a step towards the conservation of forest lands. The residents who will lose their homes, will of course be protected by resettlement and rehabilitation scheme.
According to my opinion, the Court was right in giving the eviction and demolition order but I think there should be a humanitarian approach to this as well. The evicted inhabitants should be given rehabilitation before the eviction and demolition process is continued in its full strength. This will help ensure the protection and safety of the residents especially given the pandemic. If they are not given shelter before the eviction process, they will be exposed to the virus, thus affecting the covid situation in the country.
What we can rightfully conclude from this is that forests need to be conserved not only for the sake of the environment but also to ensure a safe and healthy future for the upcoming generations. The Supreme Court has passed progressive judgments in the matters of environmental issues and this is a step forward in ensuring the protection of environment. All we need to do is show support and contribute as a society and ensure a safe and healthy environment!
As for the Khori Gaon matter, it will be taken up on July 27th, 2021 along with the SLP relating to the same matter.