India Supreme Court to rule on mass evictions

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India’s Supreme Court is set to decide on Thursday whether thousands of people in the northern state of Uttarakhand will be evicted from their homes.

Government officials have alleged that the residents have encroached on land that belongs to Indian Railways.

In December, the Uttarakhand high court asked railway authorities to clear the land after giving a week’s notice to occupants.

But residents have been protesting, saying they have nowhere to go.

Media reports say around 50,000 people will be left homeless if the Supreme Court decides to uphold the high court’s order. They live in neighbourhoods situated on a 2km-strip (1.24 miles) of land near Uttarakhand’s Haldwani railway station.

On 20 December, a two-judge bench of the high court had asked the railways to “use the forces to any extent determining upon need” to evict the “unauthorised occupants” after giving them a week’s notice.

The legal battle began after a public interest litigation on illegal mining in the area was filed in 2013 – later, the scope of the case was widened to include the alleged encroachments as well.

From 1 January, the residents started getting eviction notices.

Hundreds of people – including women and children – have been protesting for days against the order.

Some residents said that they were being harassed without cause and asked how schools and hospitals could have operated in the area without permission.

“How can one deny the structures that were made during the British era? The railways has no documents to support its claim,” one man said.

A senior official has said that the Indian Railways has “old maps, a 1959 notification, revenue records from 1971, and the results of” a 2017 survey to prove their claim.

The state’s chief minister has said that his government will follow whatever the Supreme Court decides.

Uttarakhand, a hilly state, is currently experiencing a cold wave, with the minimum temperature hovering around the 1C mark.

Agencies

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