- Apprentice Lawyer
The Delhi High Court has ruled that the right to have access to drinking water cannot be denied merely on the ground that the residents are living in an unauthorised colony (Delhi Sainik Cooperative Housing Building Society Ltd vs UOI).
"It is settled position of law that an individual has a right to access to drinking water in quantum and quality equal to his basic needs.. right to access to drinking water is fundamental to life and there is a duty of the State under Article 21 of the Constitution to provide clean drinking water to its citizen..", a Single Judge Bench of Justice Jayant Nath stated.
The order was passed by the Court in a writ petition by Delhi Sainik Cooperative Housing Building Society Ltd and its residents (Petitioners).
Fifty-three of the petitioners were veterans, decorated officers, war-widows and Armed Forces Personnel belonging to all the three wings, who fought in the wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971. They were allotted plots for residential tenements by Central government pursuant to a scheme formulated in 1961.
The allotted area was called the Defence Services Enclave (colony).
It was the petitioners grievance that in spite of the proper sale deeds being registered, the colony was treated as "unauthorised" by various authorities and was, thus, denied essential basic amenities of water, electricity, sewer, road, etc for the last 55 years.
The petitioners also contended that authorities including the local police was not allowing them to repair/build their boundary wall and that the area was susceptible to encroachment.
In response to the petition, Delhi Jal Board stated that the colony was an unauthorised colony as identified by the Urban Development Department, Delhi Government.
South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) also said that the colony was unauthorised and it was thus is not carrying out any development work.
While Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India said that the orders for regularization have to be issued by Delhi government, Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare under Ministry of Defence, Government of India confirmed that lands were given for the construction of houses for residential purposes for rehabilitation of Armed Forces personnel.
Delhi government defended the unauthorised status of the colony on the ground that it was not based on an approved lay out plan by the concerned agency.
It was pointed out that the allotment letter itself showed that the land was for the purpose of farm houses and not for residential purpose.
In view of the submission made by the parties, the Court stated that is was clear from the relevant documents that the land in question was for agriculture purposes.
"Merely because the petitioners were allotted the plots cannot be a ground to insist that the area is for residential purposes. The contention of the petitioners to the contrary claiming that the area is a residential area is a misplaced contention,",the Court said.
The Court added that as per law, DDA prepared a Master Plan for Delhi indicating the manner in which the land in each zone was to be used and no person could use any land in a particular zone otherwise than in conformity with the plan.
"It is manifest that the area as per the plans is for agricultural use. Further, all the respondents have described the colony in question as an unauthorised colony," the Court observed.
The Court, however, said that the matter could not be put to rest given the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.
Considering that it was admitted that the Ministry of Defence had given land for construction of houses for residential purposes and that the petitioners belonged to an entirely different class and category of persons who were not "affluent persons", the Court directed that the Ministry of Defence, Government to convene a meeting of relevant functionaries to take a decision of regularisation of the colony.
Further, in view of Supreme Court decision in AP Pollution Control Board II vs. Prof. MV Nayudu (Retd.) & Ors, the Court reiterated that the right to access drinking water was fundamental to life and there was a duty on the State under Article 21 to provide clean drinking water to its citizens.
"Admittedly, the respondent Delhi Jal Board is supplying drinking water to various other unauthorised colonies. This court in has held that the petitioners in the present case belong to an entirely different class and are to be treated differently from the persons who are residing in Sainik Farms. Further, the petitioners in my opinion cannot be deprived of a right to access to drinking water merely on the ground that it is an unauthorised colony. The petitioners have been residing in the said area for the last 50 years and cannot continuously be deprived of this right to access to drinking and portable water," the Court said.
The Court accordingly directed Delhi Jal Board to make an appropriate scheme as per their normal procedure for supply of portable drinking water to the 54 petitioners in accordance with law.
The petition was accordingly disposed of.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave with advocate Bahar U Barqi appeared for the petitioners.
Then ASG Maninder Acharya along with Standing Counsel Anurag Ahluwalia appeared for Centre.
Additional Standing Counsel Naushad Ahmed Khan appeared for SDMC.
Standing Counsel Ajay Verma represented DDA. Standing Counsel Sumeet Pushkarma appeared for Delhi Jal Board.