Constructions made over years on disputed land can't be razed: SC

Constructions made over years on disputed land can't be razed: SC

The Supreme Court today held that State cannot be allowed to demolish massive constructions made over the years by declaring the disputed land as a "private forest" after long and inordinate delay.

The apex court said it cannot put the clock back when the possession of the disputed land was not taken over or attempted to be taken over for decades and the issue was never raised when it should have been raised by the State.

It said citizens, who invested huge amount believing that there was no illegality in construction, should not suffer for the silence of the State for decades.

"The entire problem may also be looked at from the perspective of the citizen rather than only from the perspective of the State. No citizen can reasonably be told after almost half a century that he/she was issued a show cause notice (which was probably not served) and based on the show cause notice his/her land was declared a private forest about three decades ago and that it vests in the State," a three-judge bench headed by justice R M Lodha said.

The bench also questioned, "Is it not the responsibility of the State to ensure that its laws are implemented with reasonable dispatch and is it not the duty of the State to appreciate that statute books are not meant to be thrown at a citizen whenever and wherever some official decides to do so?"

"Basic principles of good governance must be followed by every member of the Executive branch of the State at all times keeping the interests of all citizens in mind as also the larger public interest," the bench, also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph said.

The bench delivered the judgement on a batch of 20 appeals where the principal question for consideration was whether the mere issuance of a notice under the provisions of Section 35(3) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 is sufficient for any land being declared a  "private forest" within the meaning of that expression as defined in Section 2(f)(iii) of the Maharashtra Private Forests (Acquisition) Act, 1975.

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