| Rabindra Sarobar, where the lifestyle of residents of nearby colonies poses a grave environmental risk
The Supreme Court has ordered the eviction of thousands of illegal squatters on railway property in and around Rabindra Sarobar, in south Calcutta. A division bench of Justices N. Santosh Hegde and B.P. Singh, in a judgment dated April 17, said the Calcutta High Court’s earlier order directing the state and the Central governments to provide the squatters with sanitation facilities was rendered infructous in view of the high court’s subsequent order on eviction of the squatters.
The apex court said that the high court order of eviction had superseded its earlier order of providing the squatters with further facilities of sanitation and other benefits and that the high court now should see to it that its order of eviction was implemented.
“We make it clear that the high court should now take such steps as is necessary to see that the orders of eviction passed by the competent authorities, and also the directions given by it are given effect to at the earliest,” the judges said in their five-page judgment.
Calcutta High Court’s ouster order was prompted by a public interest litigation filed by the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, complaining that the residents of the unauthorised structures along the rail tracks were polluting the Dhakuria Lakes.
In an order dated June 18, 1999, the high court directed that sanitation and other amenities be provided to the squatters and that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation “shall see to it that no further infiltration takes place”.
The railways and the state government were asked to shoulder the costs. Against this order, the Union of India, through Eastern Railway, Calcutta, moved the Supreme Court.
Chanchal Ganguly, counsel for CESC, said the power utility would now withdraw all its connections, provided the apex court’s verdict is implemented. The CESC was accused of providing the shanty-dwellers with permanent power connections. But the connections were given only after the squatters had furnished proper documents, like ration and election cards, Ganguly said.
According to the CESC counsel, the question of rehabilitation of the squatters by the government was being kept alive by the apex court, which would adjudicate upon their claim to right to life, guaranteed under Article 21, as an inalienable fundamental right.
During the earlier hearing, the apex court had made it clear that the question of rehabilitation was different from that of the eviction of the squatters, which was required in order to prevent environmental degradation of the Rabindra Sarobar Lakes.
Now that the question of eviction has been settled by the apex court against the unauthorised residents, the issue of their rehabilitation and their right to life would be taken up separately.
The issue of removing the unauthorised structures along the rail tracks has set the stage for some high-voltage political action, with both the Opposition and a section of the ruling Left Front pitching in their support for the shanty-dwellers with rallies and demonstrations.