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Bulldozer justice & estoppel doctrine

EducationWorld March 2024 | Editorial Magazine

The midnight demolition of miner Wakeel Hassan’s home in Delhi by bulldozers of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has again highlighted the contempt and cruelty with which government and its agencies interact with bottom-of–pyramid citizens. Hassan attained national fame last November when he led a team of 12 self-trained ‘rat-hole’ miners (who venture down narrow underground passages to extract coal from open cast mines) to rescue 41 engineers trapped in a collapsed road construction tunnel in Silkyara, Uttarkashi, after all efforts including import of sophisticated earth-boring machines from the US, failed. Yet on February 28, without any notice, Hassan’s home in Delhi’s Khajoori Khas area was demolished by DDA officials on the ground that it had been illegally constructed on DDA land.

A day after this Silkyara hero’s home was razed, a Delhi high court bench expressed indignation about the spread of illegal constructions in the national capital stating that tomorrow “someone might buy India Gate and construct a home there”. The justices refused to issue a stay against official demolition — in the style of Hassan’s home — of unauthorised constructions in Dwarka and several other areas of Delhi. Curiously, the learned judges overlooked the fact that in many, if not most, of these cases, the homes were constructed on government/DDA land years, and often decades ago. For instance, Hassan’s home was constructed 13 years ago, according to his wife Shabana.

In the circumstances, the question arises: What was DDA doing all these years? More pertinently, didn’t the authority have a duty of care to nip the encroachment of its land in the bud?

Their lordships seem unaware. It’s common practice nationwide for ubiquitous touts and middlemen hand-in-glove with corrupt municipal government/ DDA officials to encourage under-educated citizens like Hassan to erect homes on government land in consideration for bribes and issuance of false documents. Years later after conniving officials are transferred, new sets of officials continue to extract rents and fees to look the other way until it is no longer possible to do so. That’s when bulldozers get to work.

In the circumstances, it’s high time the courts took judicial notice of corruption and bribery that is rife in the DDA and municipal corporations. In this particular case, the courts should enquire why the DDA did not object to Hassan’s prolonged adverse possession of DDA land and whimsically decided to demolish his painstakingly financed home this year.

Laws of natural justice mandate that land owners should protest adverse possession as soon as it occurs. In particular, government authorities that don’t dispute adverse possession within reasonable time, should be forbidden to interfere with the peaceful possession of ‘illegal’ occupiers under the well-established law of estoppel. There’s a lot that’s rotten within civic and municipal governments countrywide. The judiciary should condemn rather than condone it.

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