- Apprentice Lawyer
Government authorities have an obligation to prevent encroachments on public land under the garb of place of worship, the Delhi High Court recently said (Bal Bhagwan vs DDA).
A single-judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh said that such attempts by unscrupulous parties to lay illegal claims over public land should be discouraged.
"..this Court expresses grave concern over the fact that public land is sought to be encroached upon under the shelter of a place of worship..Such attempts by unscrupulous parties ought to be discouraged, inasmuch as the occupants, under the garb of a place of worship, turn the land into a completely unplanned encroachment by hundreds of people. The authorities have an obligation to ensure that in public land, places of worship are not created in this manner," the High Court said.
The Court recorded that even the Supreme Court has "frowned upon" the "trend" of parties claiming rights on government land under the garb of temples or other places of worship.
"The Supreme Court, in its judgment in Union of India v. State of Gujarat & Ors., (2011) 14 SCC 62 has, in fact, taken cognizance of this menace and directed State Governments and Union Territories to review the situation and take appropriate action in an expeditious manner," the Court noted.
It was dealing with a petition seeking to permanently restrain the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) from demolishing or forcibly dispossessing the petitioner, Bal Bhagwan, from three temple premises.
The plea challenged the lower court orders refusing to give any relief to petitioner.
The petitioner claimed that he was the Chela of Late Swami Onkara Nand who was managing/running four temples situated on the suit property since 1960s.
The petitioner said that he was in settled possession of the land in question and since the DDA had acquired the land on an ‘as is where is’ basis, he could not be removed from it.
DDA argued that the entire land was government land and the petitioner was in illegal occupation. The Court was informed that DDA intended to take over the land, which was vested in it by the Ministry of Rehabilitation in 1982, for rehabilitation of the Kathputli Colony dwellers.
DDA also disputed the maintainability of the petition on the ground that under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, the Court did not exercise appellate jurisdiction.
To arrive at its decision, the Court noted that the land in question was "located in the heart of Delhi" and the temples constituted a "minute portion" of the suit property.
Further considering that admittedly, the land was government land and that the petitioner had no title, the Court held that no case for interference under Article 227 was made out.
Since land was now vested with DDA, the Court ruled that DDA was free to deal with it and take action in whatever manner it deems appropriate, including action against any encroachment.
"The fact that the property was vested in the DDA on ‘as is where is’ basis does not mean that the DDA cannot take any action to remove an unauthorised occupant or encroacher," the Court said.
Reiterating that jamabandis and khasra girdawaris did not vest any ownership rights, the Court opined that a temple could not claim the right to remain in possession forever.
"..the Manager of the Mandir cannot claim the right to remain in possession forever, especially when the land is government land. Even if the said possession is treated as settled possession, the same can only be protected against forceful taking of possession. The person in settled possession cannot question being dispossessed in accordance with law after due process has been followed."
The Court noted that in the present case, although the land in question was vested in DDA several years ago, DDA was yet to obtain possession of the land.
Remarking that an important developmental project had been derailed because of the present litigation, the Court said that "attempts by unscrupulous parties" who encroach upon land under the garb of a place of worship ought to be discouraged.
The petition was ultimately dismissed with costs of Rs 1 lakh to be deposited by the petitioner with the High Court of Delhi (Middle Income Group) Legal Aid Society.
Advocates YK Kapur and Manish Vats appeared for the petitioner.
Senior Advocate Rajiv Bansal with advocate Dhanesh Relan appeared for DDA.