Gujarat HC dismisses PIL seeking rehabilitation of slum-dwellers

SURAT : A division bench of the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation by Ahmedabad-based trade union Bandhkam Mazdoor Sangathan that sought the rehabilitation of 75 slum-dwellers evicted in Ahmedabad for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.

The verdict by a division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice AJ Shastri, a detailed copy of which is yet to be made public, said that “after careful consideration of every material, we found no case” and added that the petitioner “can give representation to the government”.

It will be open for the petitioner to “avail any other remedy to ventilate their grievance by putting specific representation in which event the state authorities with sympathetic approach, (can) consider their claim and find out if it fits in any other policy”, it said.

The PIL had highlighted that the slum dwellings at JP in Chali came into existence in 1991 where migrants settled and grew to 68-70 slum dwellings with a population of 350 by 2021. The residents were first attempted to be evicted in 2018 by the state and railway authorities for the bullet train project.

As submitted by the advocate Hetvi Patel representing the petitioner union, in 2018, National High Speed Railway Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) that surveyed the area gave a verbal assurance to the slum dwellers that they will not be asked to vacate the land unless they were rehabilitated. According to the petitioner, NHSRCL gave numbers to 48 slums and took pictures of the residents with their houses, assuring the residents that they will be allocated houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the state policy for affordable housing.

However, between 2018 and 2021, no rehabilitation process was carried out and the dwellers continued to live at the site, where they had been residing for 30 years. In February 2021, they were issued a common notice by the railway administration to vacate in seven days, following which the dwellers made representations to various authorities. On March 15, 2021, the railway administration started demolishing the settlements, leaving 318 persons homeless.

In a June 30 order, the Gujarat HC instructed the Ahmedabad district administration to undertake an exercise as per the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, 2013, giving a fair opportunity of hearing to all stakeholders. The state in an affidavit submitted that 18 slum dwellers were existing on the alignment line of 22 square metres of land that was “given to NHSRCL”.

Subsequently, the state government submitted before the court that none of the residents are liable for any benefit under the rehabilitation policy. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corpo-ration (AMC) also submitted that it does not have any policy for rehabilitation for slum-dwellers living on railway land. Western Railways, too, submitted that they do not have any rehabilitation policy for them.

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