In a welcome observation, the Bombay High Court said on Tuesday the State must treat all citizens, whether rich or poor, with dignity.
It also pulled up the Maharashtra government for forcing nearly 15,000 families to stay in the chemical pollution-affected Mahul area of Mumbai.
A bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre also referred to the Biblical story of Noah and his ark, saying, “When the floods came, Noah didn’t leave even a single animal behind, but took them all on his boat.” “Similarly,you must take care of the interest of all your citizens, whether poor or rich,” it said.
The bench was hearing an application filed by some residents affected by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s demolition drive. The litigants said the civic body was refusing to compensate them towards rent for an alternative place of residence. Around 15,000 families, or 60,000 people, were affected when the BMC demolished all encroachments and illegal constructions along the Tansa water pipeline in the city last year.
It decided to shift them to alternative accommodations in Mahul near suburban Chembur. However, the Mahul area, which is surrounded by three refineries and a chemical factory, was declared unfit for human habitation by the National Green Tribunal in 2015 and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay this year.
These people refused to shift to Mahul and subsequently approached the high court. In April this year, another bench of HC said the state could not force citizens to live in a polluted area. It directed the state to pay Rs 15,000 towards monthly rent to those families which did not wish to stay in Mahul.
Around 200 of the 15,000 affected families have shifted to Mahul so far. On Tuesday, the BMC claimed before the High Court that it has not paid the rent amount to the petitioners since the HC order on the issue had been stayed by the Supreme Court.
However, after verification of records, the court realised that while the State’s appeal was pending in the apex court, no stay was granted on the HC’s rent amount order. “You must treat all citizens, whether rich or poor, with dignity. You can manage five crore people in Kumbh mela but you are unable to accommodate 60,000 people in this case,” the bench said. Though the order was issued to Maharashtra officials, it fits to all State governments across the country and authorities should ensure that all citizens are treated equal.