Khori Gaon rehabilitation cannot wait till April 2022, says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told the Haryana government that alternative housing for eligible beneficiaries ousted from forest land at Khori Gaon in Faridabad cannot wait till April 2022. The court directed that they be temporarily housed within a week from the receipt of their application under the rehabilitation scheme introduced by the state government. It also stated that repair works, while ensuring the safety of residents, can be carried out simultaneously.

“We were under the impression that the structures are ready, and they need minor repairs. And now you are asking for time to hand over possession till April 2022,” observed the bench of justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari.

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Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF), told the court that once the verification is completed by October end, the state shall provide ₹2,000 solatia or compensation to each eligible family to rent an accommodation for six months till the flats are ready by April 2022.

The Faridabad municipality had earmarked flats under the economically weaker section (EWS) category at Dabua Colony and Bapu Colony situated in Faridabad. Presently, the municipality informed the court, the houses are “not habitable” as tenders were floated for its maintenance and ensuring supply of electricity and water, and setting up of drainage facilities is expected to take nearly five months.

About 6,600 dwelling units in Khori village were razed by Faridabad municipality over the last few months as the illegal colony was encroaching 150 acres of Aravalli forest land. Many of the evicted residents, housed in temporary shelters, complained about the absence of a rehabilitation scheme, following which, the state approved a rehabilitation scheme on August 25, incorporating the suggestions of affected residents, and presented it to the court in an affidavit filed last Saturday.

The rehabilitation scheme allowed persons affected by the demolition drive in Khori to apply for alternate housing by October 15. The state said that their documents, such as electricity bills, voter IDs and Parivar Pehchan Patra, will be scrutinised to establish their eligibility, following which a draw of lots will be conducted and final allotment of flats will be made by April 2022.

The bench said that the proposed scheme did not consider the court’s suggestion for temporary allocation of flats pending final scrutiny and draw of lots. It also made its discontent felt on action taken against illegal farmhouses on forest land and the decision to remove the municipal commissioner on August 2, amid the case hearing, without showing the courtesy to inform the court.

The judges asked senior advocate Arun Bhardwaj to address the court as he had represented the municipality on the last occasion and did not approve of the decision to change counsels.

Bhardwaj agreed with the court’s suggestion of temporary allocation of flats and simultaneous repair and maintenance work.

The bench in its order said, “The corporation, upon receipt of applications and documents being submitted by applicants for, prima facie, establishing eligibility, shall grant provisional allotment letter that will indicate temporary possession subject to final verification and draw of lots of all participants.”

Before taking provisional possession, an undertaking shall be furnished by the applicant to hand over the possession within two weeks in the event they are found ineligible under the scheme upon scrutiny, the court said. It clarified that once the temporary accommodation is taken by the eligible family, the rent/solatium of ₹2,000 payable by the state government shall stop.

The court allowed the repair work of the EWS flats to be simultaneously carried out with the condition, “While carrying out repairs or maintenance, all care and caution must be observed regarding safety of occupants of the premises under repair.”

Senior advocates Sanjay Parikh and Colin Gonsalves raised objections on the rehabilitation scheme which the court agreed to consider on Monday. Parikh said that the e-portal for submission of applications was not working. The bench directed that the corporation was free to consider extending the cut-off date for receiving applications. So far, over 2,400 applications have been received under the rehabilitation scheme.

The removal of Khori Gaon was part of the court’s efforts to implement its order of February 19, 2020, requiring Aravalli forest land to be cleared of encroachments. On April 5, 2021, the court reiterated that Khori Gaon occupants have to be removed. On June 7, the court fixed a six-week deadline to remove the 6,600 structures in the Khori Gaon colony. The court gave a free hand to MCF to act without exception against all unauthorised structures on forest land.

The MCF has since then registered a criminal case on June 23 against unknown persons who illegally sold land parcels belonging to 150 acres of forest land to Khori Gaon residents using illegal and unfair means. The MCF also identified 140 illegal structures, including farmhouses, and demolished 10 of these.

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