Perhaps Squatters are tolerated near Railway tracks only in India: Bombay High Court

squatters in rly land
Illegal encroachments of Railway Land near Railway Tracks in Mumbai

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday chided the state government and the Railways for allowing squatters to stay for over two decades near railway tracks between Santacruz and Vile Parle stations. The court said it endangers the lives of around 3.5 million Western Railway commuters.

“Almost the entire city comes from North Bombay (sic) to South Bombay by train and returns by train,” said a bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice B P Colabawalla.

A petition was moved by Shiv Sai Welfare Society, on behalf of 105 families, urging a stay on eviction proceedings by Railways and for alternative permanent housing. Its advocate Sachin Masurkar said the families were living there before 1995 and were overlooked in the 2001 survey of a World Bank project for permanent housing for slum-dwellers. He said it is the MMRDA’s responsibility to house project-affected persons even if they are illegal occupants.

Seeing the photographs, the judges observed the hutments are barely two feet from the track. “You have no business to squat near the railway line. It happens only in India where you are tolerated for 20 years. Tomorrow you will construct near the runway,” said Justice Kanade. Masurkar said, “Not that I want to stay here forever. It is the question of my survival.” But Justice Kanade retorted, “It is also the survival of those who travel by train. Every other day we read about stone-throwing incidents.”

Masurkar said the occupants have documents to prove their eligibility. Justice Kanade said, “We don’t want to say anything about those who allowed you to stay and assisted you to procure documents. The point is whether you have a right to squat two feet from the railway line. According to us, you have no right.”

The bench also asked the Railways’ advocate Suresh Kumar, “Why do you allow these people to continue after 20 years?” Kumar said 19,000 families were provided houses under the WB project. “They all came after that,” he said.

Refusing relief, the bench said, “We are surprised how the state government and the Railway authorities permit construction of such shanties next to the tracks.” It also expressed surprise at how squatters get electricity, free water supply and documents like ration card and PAN card. But it directed the authorities to decide the Society’s representation within a month.