SRA Not to Issue Eviction Notice for Weekends, Slum Dwellers Humans Not Pieces on Chessboard: Bombay HC

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The HC also cautioned AGRC members that failure to comply might lead to contempt proceedings being initiated against them

The Bombay High Court has recently directed the Slum Rehabilitation Authority not to issue eviction notices scheduled for weekends, as the courts are not accessible to affected individuals on those days. It also observed that slum residents are humans and “should not be treated like pieces on a chessboard”.

“Even if a statute prescribes periods of 24 hours, 36 hours or 72 hours, it does not mean that the authority has to give only that period to vacate. We now propose to take the liberty of issuing a direction applicable to all authorities everywhere that no notices for eviction are to be given mentioning only hours. A specific date must be mentioned, and that date cannot be over a weekend when courts are unavailable to the affected persons,” the order stated.

It added: “Justice under our Constitution must mean the right to expect fair treatment from an administrative authority and, if not, the right to approach a court for redressal. Justice cannot be an empty promise.”

The division bench of the high court, comprising Justices GS Patel and Kamal Khata, also observed that the slum dwellers are humans and should not be treated like pieces on a chessboard.

“What we fail to understand is how the SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority), which is charged with looking after the welfare of slum dwellers, can possibly decide after 18 or 20 years that seven days is enough to uproot entire families and households. These are human beings; they have families; they are not pieces on a chessboard that can be moved around or even swept off. The last thing we want to hear is that once money is flung at these people, their concerns and their very humanity are immaterial,” the order said.

The court was in the process of hearing an appeal, which was the assignment of a single-judge bench alongside two other petitions assigned to a division bench.

All three petitions contested the notice issued on February 7 under sections 33 and 38 of the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, requiring them to vacate the premises within seven days. The deadline was February 18, which happened to be a Sunday.

All three cases were originally filed before the Apex Grievance Redressal Committee (AGRC), but this was unavailable. The HC registry conveyed this information to the division bench on Saturday evening.

Additionally, the Chief Justice, who was away on an official event, had to be contacted to issue an administrative order transferring the petition initially filed before the single-judge bench to the division bench.

The HC convened online and the counsels of the SRA were without instructions. Consequently, the court stayed the notices issued. It also directed the AGRC to convene at 5 pm to consider the application for staying the notices, further directing it to provide a signed order by 10.30 am on February 22.

The HC also cautioned AGRC members that failure to comply might lead to contempt proceedings being initiated against them.

“We make it clear that there is no question looking to the convenience of the members of the AGRC in the facts that we have narrated above. If there is non-compliance, we will not hesitate to use powers including those in contempt against these serving bureaucrats. We are not concerned with their availability or other prior commitments. All those other commitments will wait till Friday, February 23,” the order stated.

Case title: Jijaba Dashrath Shinde  vs State of Maharashtra