Lucknow demolition drive: What’s the tearing hurry? HC asks; government goes ahead

Around 15,000 people have received eviction notices as the Akbarnagar locality in Lucknow has been classified as a riverbed where any construction or encroachment is prohibited. 

DESPITE a stay on a large-scale demolition in Akbarnagar by a Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court yesterday, the Lucknow Development Authority carried out the demolition exercise amid tight police security today.

Yesterday, the high court had stayed the demolition drive against the “illegal” settlements in Akbarnagar I&II, located on the bank of Kukrail Nullah in Lucknow. It is said that around 15,000 people have received eviction notices from the Lucknow Development Authority.

Demolition drives are being carried out in different parts of Lucknow as part of the government’s plans for beautification of the city.

In 2016, the Lucknow government initiated the Gomti Riverfront Project under which it intended to clean and beautify the riverbed areas.

The Lucknow Development Authority has classified Akbarnagar as a riverbed. The Kukrail Nullah is a small tributary of the Gomti river.

As per the norms of the National Green Tribunal, no construction can be carried out in a riverbed, even if one is in possession of a property.

As per the River Centric Urban Planning Guidelines of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, any construction or encroachment over the riverbank reduces the capacity of the rivers to carry out flood waters and may lead to floods.

Justice Pankaj Bhatia of the Lucknow Bench held that the manner in which the demolition exercise was carried out prima facie affected the right of the residents to earn livelihood under Article 21 and the obligation of the State to resettle residents affected by the demolition.

Brief facts

A group of petitioners approached the court against an appeal Order dated December 15. The appeal Order was passed under Section 27(2) (Order of demolition of building) of the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973.

The said appeal upheld an Order to demolish settlements in Akbarnagar I&II. The Order was passed by the Lucknow Development Authority under Section 27(1) of the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973 on October 13.

In the present writ petition, the petitioners claim that they are in possession of the area in Akbarnagar I&II. They have been peaceably enjoying the property for more than forty years without any interference.

The petitioners state that their properties have khasra numbers. The khasra numbers are unique survey numbers assigned to a property in rural or semi-rural areas.

As per the contentions of one of the petitioners, he had set up a furniture shop and built a house on the property in question.

Because of the commercial activity being carried out, he was called upon on August 26 to show how he could carry out construction. The said petitioner filed a reply against which the demolition Order was passed.

The demolition Order states that the area in question was on a green belt and an adverse possession of it could not be claimed.

During the pendency of the appeal against the demolition Order, the petitioner alleged that the Lucknow Development Authority threatened to pass an Order of eviction.

Aggrieved by this, some petitioners approached the high court. The high court, on December 8, issued a mandamus to the appellate authority to hear and decide on the stay of demolition.

It was also provided in the high court Order that no coercive action shall be taken against the petitioners till December 20. The said direction was passed mainly on the grounds that the petitioners should get a reasonable opportunity to avail remedies against any Order passed against them.

However, instead of deciding on the stay, the appellate authority dismissed all appeals.

The petitioners contended that the appeal Order was passed based on the materials which were neither supplied nor were ever provided to the petitioners. This, they claimed, was a violation of principles of natural justice.

Another ground on which the petitioners challenged the appeal Order was that since the petitioners were occupants of the property before the enactment of the 1973 Act, no proceedings could be initiated under the said legislation.

Lastly, the petitioners argued that the demolition could affect their livelihood as they have been residing and carrying out their occupation and professions for the last forty to fifty years.

They also argued that even if proceedings under the 1973 Act are initiated, no proceedings could be initiated under Section 27 of the Act. The only remedies available to the respondents could be to take recourse to Section 26A (encroachment or obstruction on public land) of the 1973 Act.

The respondents on their part argued that the petitioners have gradually occupied the area over the last forty to fifty years, i.e., after the enactment of the 1973 Act.

They also argued that since the petitioners could not establish any title over the property in question, they cannot resist the demolition.

Further, they also argued that the petitioners cannot claim an occupation over a river bed.

What did the Lucknow Bench say?

On December 21, the high court noted that although the petitioners prima facie could not demonstrate any title over the property, they had successfully established their possession, even if the said possession was illegal.

It said: “What emerges is that the various persons including the petitioners are in occupation of the land without having any title in their favour; with the passage of time, the said persons have continued in possession and in fact, government roads were carved out and other municipal services are being provided; in some cases, even the municipal taxes are being paid.

It also appears that a school is being run in the vicinity, i.e., the entire area known as Akbar Nagar I&II. This fact has not been denied by either of the parties and also emerges from the Orders impugned.

In this regard, Justice Bhatia said: “At this stage, it is not clear as to what is the tearing hurry in which huge occupations by the relatively poor class of persons are being proposed to be demolished forthwith without even waiting for the scheme of relocating the adversely affected persons being implemented in letter and spirit and also exposing the poorest of the poor to the ensuing harsh winters.

In furtherance of this observation, the court issued directions to stay the demolition carried out in the entire area of Akbarnagar till January 22, 2024.

It has also directed the Lucknow Development Authority to give a reasonable time of four weeks to the inhabitants to apply for the relocation scheme.

The Lucknow Development Authority has already initiated a relocation scheme under which camps have been set to register and relocate the affected residents as per their financial status.

With today’s drive, have the authorities also demolished the stay Order?