11 Feb 2017

No encroachment on public roads, even for religious reasons: High Court

In an earlier post of 2009 we had covered a direction passed by the Supreme Court to the effect that no construction of temples could be made on public roads. We had also covered in 2010 a decision of the Kerala High Court that there could not be any public meetings on roads as it creates inconvenience to public at large. It appears that there is no effect of such directions being passed on the common folk. In this post we are covering a decision of the Allahabad High Court which again emphasizes this point to hold that even for religious reasons there can be no encroachment on public roads. 

The case of Luvkuch v. State of Uttar Pradesh [Misc. Bench No. 13474/2016, decision dated 03.06.2016][AIR 2016 All 220] came up before the High Court on account of the complaint of local residents of the State against those "encroaching upon a public pathway by raising construction of a religious structure (Temple) and attempting to encroach upon the public land". They submitted that "people of this Country are basically simple and have faith in one or the other religion" and they are "normally soft whenever any religious activity is undertaken, even if it causes inconvenience of any kind to them". It was on account of this tendency of theirs, it was argued, that others took "advantage of such religious sentiments normally shown by majority of people" and such "scrupulous people do not hesitate in gross misuse by proceeding to encroach upon public land causing obstruction in smooth movement of public." Their argument was noted by the High Court in the following terms;
"3. ... Many a times, we have seen that in the garb of constructing religious structures, like Temple, Mazar, Samadhi, Mosque, Gurudwara, Church etc., public roads (including highways), streets, pathways etc. are encroached upon, obstructing or creating hindrance in smooth movement of public including vehicular traffic and once such structure is raised, due to fear of adverse consequences, people normally avoid to complain, and used to adjust such misuse. It is submitted by learned counsel for petitioners that authorities in power, who under the statute, are responsible to prevent such encroachment and illegal constructions also play soft and do not take or hesitate in taking action for preventing such activities and this is causing mushroom growth of such structures by encroaching upon public roads (including highways), streets, pathways etc. ..."
The Government lawyer accepted that "such encroachment and illegal constructions, neither in law nor otherwise can be allowed" but also submitted that it was "looking to religious sentiments of people" that "authorities find it difficult to take actual action." Taking note of the position, the High Court passed the following order;
"6. There is no fundamental or legal right to encroach upon a public road (including highway), street etc. and raise construction of any kind thereon. These unauthorised and illegal activities cause hindrance and interruption in free flow and movement of traffic including foot walkers. Every citizen has a fundamental right of movement and this cannot be allowed to be infringed by a few violators in public and apathy of State authorities. In our view, those who create such obstructions as also those who perpetuate it by taking care/ managing such structures and also those who fail to take any action in law, all deserve to be taken to task and make responsible and accountable for their respective misdeeds.
7. Looking to the wider perspective of the issue and widespread tendency of such encroachment in the name of religion, faith, sect etc., we find that the State Government and Officials must be asked to act and show response in an effective manner."
In this background the High Court passed the following directions to all State authorities;
(i) State of U.P. through Chief Secretary, U.P. is directed to issue a general direction to all Collectors and Senior Superintendent of Police/Superintendent of Police including the Officers responsible for maintenance of roads including highways) in State of U.P. to ensure that no religious structure in any form, whatsoever, shall be allowed / permitted to be raised on public road (including highways), street, pathway, lane etc. including sideways which is part and parcel of road (including highways) etc. and belong to State.
(ii) If any such structure is existing and has been raised in the last five years, to be more precise on and after 01.01.2011, the same shall be removed forthwith and a compliance report shall be submitted by Collectors etc. of concerned Districts to Principal Secretary/Secretary of concerned department, who shall submit a comprehensive report to the Chief Secretary within next two months.
(iii) If any such religious structure has been raised encroaching upon public road (including highways), street, lane etc., as stated above, before 01.01.2011, a Scheme shall be worked out and executed to shift the same to a private land offered by beneficiaries of such religious structures or persons responsible for its management or to remove it, within six months and a compliance report shall be submitted in the manner as said above in Direction No. (ii). 
(iv) On and after 10.06.2016, it shall be the responsibility of all Deputy Collectors/ Collectors in respective Sub-divisions and District as also Circle Officers and Superintendent of Police/Senior Superintendent of Police of concerned District including the Officers responsible for maintenance of roads (including highways) that no encroachment is made, by raising religious structures, by whatever name it is called, belong to any religion, creed, caste, sect, section etc., on public roads (including highways), streets, pathways, sideways, lanes etc. and if any deviation or disobedience is found, these Officers shall be personally responsible. This disobedience shall also be treated a deliberate and intentional disobedience to lower down authority of Court and would amount to criminal contempt.
(v) State Government is also directed to make out a plan so as to ensure that public roads (including highways), streets, pathways, sideways, lanes etc. are not obstructed creating hindrance in the smooth flow of traffic/movement of public on such roads (including highways) due to observance of religious activities and such activities are performed strictly at the places identified for the same or belong to concerned religious sections or at private place.
(vi) In the present case, District Magistrate is directed to take immediate steps and take appropriate action within two weeks.
While indeed the High Court has passed the directions calling upon the authorities to take action, one cannot rule out with certainty that such actions will not be repeated again. Land grabbing, albeit in the name of religion, is a common affair in the country and it will definitely take more than a mandamus to the authorities to act. The common folks must realise the importance of the issue and then only some improvement can be expected.

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