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The inalienability bar on common lands can be neglected only in exceptional cases – SC

JITENDRA SINGH.VS. MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT & ORS., CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5109 OF 2019. – 25 November 2019.

The bench encompassing Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Surya Kant collectively pronounced the judgment on illegal benefits by wealthy parties at the cost of the environment and residents. The appellant in the present case is a socially-active lawyer dedicated to better the lives of his co­villagers. He was triggered to file a petition before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) when private entities like Sharp through Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority attempted to forcibly take over possession of a ‘common- pond’, which had been in use by local villagers for a century. The complaints filed by him before the District Collector was of no use since no action was taken regarding the dispossession of ‘common-pond’. Thereby, he moved to the NGT. The appellant highlighted that the water bodies were vested in the Gram Sabhas per Section 117 of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950 and he contended that such land had neither been acquired nor resumed and hence there was no power with GNIDA to transfer the same to Sharp. He further stressed on the non-obtention of environmental clearances by the abovesaid industrialists. The NGT vide its brief impugned order dated 06.03.2019 concluded that the appellant’s substantial grievance had been redressed. It accordingly dismissed his application, without venturing into the merits of the dispute. Now, The instant statutory appeal has been preferred under Section 22 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 against the order dated 06.03.2019 of the Principal Bench of the NGT.

The issue before the Court was “whether it is permissible for the State to alienate common water bodies for industrial activities, under the guise of providing alternatives?” This Court analyzed and commended on the creativeness of the respondents in manipulating the description of the pond to be a ‘slightly­sloped seasonal rainfall­catchment area’ but stated that it was of no merit. Further, it clearly expressed that repeal of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950 and vesting of such ponds and local areas in the State by Section 57 of the UP Revenue Code, 2006 would not by itself either change the nature of land contrary to revenue record nor will defeat the long­established rights of the local people on commons.

The Court relied on the following cases: Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi; Jagpal Singh v. the State of Punjab; and MC Mehta v. Union of India and came to this conclusion:


‘ponds’ are a public utility meant for common use and held that they could not be allotted or commercialized.

Certain common lands are vested with collective benefit and can be alienated only under exceptional circumstances for the downtrodden.

It explicitly specified that “long duration of such illegal occupation or huge expenditure in making constructions thereon” cannot be a “justification for condoning this illegal act or for regularizing the illegal possession”.The action of the respondent­authorities contravened their Constitutional obligations.

It held that it was the responsibility of the respondents to ensure the protection and integrity of the environment, especially one which is a source for livelihood for rural population and life for local flora and fauna.

To safeguard the fundamental right of the villagers guaranteed under Article 21 to foster the environment.

Henceforth, it produced the judgment:

” For the reasons stated above, we allow the appeal and set aside the impugned order passed by the NGT. The allotment of all water bodies is held to be illegal and the same is hereby quashed. Respondent Nos. 1 to 5 shall restore, maintain and protect the subject­water bodies in village Saini. Respondents are further directed to remove all obstructions from the catchment area through which natural water accumulates in the village ponds, all within a period of three months”

Jumanah Kader

Photo: Sruthi R Manikam 

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