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Haldwani Dispute: Railways or Locals, Who Does Land Belong To? History May Help

Who did the disputed land in Haldwani originally belong to? How have rights of the land been transferred over time?

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In a relief to thousands of residents who were staring at the prospect of being rendered homeless, the Supreme Court of India on Thursday, 5 January, put a stay on the eviction drive on alleged railway land in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani. 

In a strongly-worded order, the apex court said, “There cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people overnight. It’s a human issue, some workable solution needs to be found.”

“It may not be correct to say that paramilitary forces have to be deployed to remove people who have been living there for decades,” the top court noted, halting the Uttarakhand High Court (HC) order that had allowed the eviction of nearly 4,300 families in Haldwani, and even use of force if need be.

After the Uttarakhand HC had ordered the removal of encroachment on the alleged railway land, thousands of residents carried out candle marches and protests in Haldwani's Banbhoolpura colony. 

Who did the disputed land in Banbhoolpura originally belong to? What is its history, and how have the rights of the land been transferred over time? 

Haldwani Dispute: Railways or Locals, Who Does Land Belong To? History May Help

  1. 1. But First, What Has the Supreme Court Noted?

    The Supreme Court, in its order dated 5 January, noted the following:

    • “There cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in seven days. We do believe that a workable arrangement is necessary to segregate people who may have no rights in the land who have to be removed, coupled with schemes of rehabilitation which may already exist, while recognising the need of the railways,” the bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and AS Oka said. 

    • It was mentioned in the court that the names of local residents are recorded in the house tax register of the Municipal Corporation and that they have been paying house tax regularly for years. 

    • The top court also noted that the said land has been occupied by the petitioners and their forefathers for a long time, in some cases even before Independence. This, the court noted, has been recognised by the state and its agencies as several residents have water and gas connections, and even Aadhaar cards basis their address on the said disputed land. 

    Expand
  2. 2. What Is the Land Dispute?

    Locals from the area have claimed that their families have been living there for generations. Three days before the SC order staying eviction, The Quint was in Haldwani, and spoke to residents about the issue. Ishaan Singh, 29, a resident, had said, "If this land definitely belongs to the railways, then what is the state government doing here? Why are government schools, government health centers and inter colleges here (on this land)? The administration doesn't care about us, nor is it listening to us."

    Apart from houses, there are also temples, mosques, tube wells, water tanks, primary schools, government schools in this area. In such a situation, calling them encroachments and calling for action is “completely wrong,” locals had claimed.

    Meanwhile, citing a 2017 survey, the Railways has claimed that 29 acres of railway land has been encroached upon in Haldwani, in which 4,365 encroachers are present. The Railways, which was made party to the case only in 2016, has cited maps, revenue records from 1971, and the survey to prove their ownership of the land. 

    According to a report, the 'Basti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti,' which was formed to defend the affected, says that the map presented by the Railways in the High Court is of 1959. At the same time, people have lease papers dating back to 1937; which means that the claim of the people is older than that of the railways.

    The 2.2 kilometre strip of disputed land in Banbhulpura includes the slums of Gaffur Basti, which is adjascent to Haldwani railway station, Dholak Basti and Indira Nagar.

    Expand
  3. 3. Can Tracing the History of the Land Help Identify Its Actual Owner?

    In the early 1800s, the township of Haldwani was a geographically non-existent township. In 1816, after a battle between the East India Company and the Bhotias of Nepal, the two parties signed an agreement called the Sagauli Treaty. Under the treaty, the regions of Garhwal and Kumaon were added to the East India Company, and later given to Nepal for Rs two lakh, the Uttarakhand HC order has mentioned.

    The area of Haldwani Khas attained territorial existence in 1834 by the East India Company with a basic political intention — to give rights (including ownership and tillage of soil) to the residents of Bhawar area of Haldwani. These claims find mention in The Himalayan Gazetteer, which was compiled by ET Atkinson in 1882. 

    In 1896, Thomas Gown, who was considered to be the proprietor of Haldwani, transferred his property to Dan Singh, the most eminent businessman of Pithorgarh District, The Himalayan Gazetteer states.

    However, the transfer deed has not been seen by anyone. After this, different parts of the property were named after different persons, who started selling them. However, they had not purchased the property from Dan Singh through a registered or unregistered deed. 

    As the township was being developed, the municipal department, through a memorandum dated 17 May 1907, notified that the area of Haldwani will be managed by it and as Nazul property, or land which has been taken over by the government. 

    Who did the disputed land in Haldwani originally belong to? How have rights of the land been transferred over time?

    Government Order/Office Memorandum No. 1748/XI-10-1907 dated May 17, 1907 and its contents.

    (Photo: Screenshot of PIL)

    Expand
  4. 4. Then Where Lies the Dispute?

    While the 1907 government order forms the basis of the petitioners claiming the land to be Nazul property, it may be argued that the order was merely administrative communication made by the Joint Secretary to the Commissioner of Kumaon district.

    The main contention in this case is whether the land given to Dan Singh in 1896 would be considered Nazul land or not? And, if it is indeed Nazul land, then under which legal provision, and what will be considered the method of transfer of ownership rights of that property (land)?

    In fact, the Uttarakhand HC had held that the disputed area is the property of the Railways and not Nazul land, as claimed by the residents. In a 176-page order, the HC had asserted that the office memo was not a government order and did not confer any rights on the defendants/encroachers.

    Expand
  5. 5. When Was the Matter First Taken to Court?

    In 2013, the Uttarakhand HC was hearing a case against the illegal sand mining allegedly taking place in river Gaula, which flows through the Haldwani railway station. It was during the proceedings of this case that it was claimed that several residents living near the railway line were involved in the mining.

    The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to remove the encroachment was first filed in the year 2013.

    On 9 November 2016, the HC ordered the removal of encroachments from the said land within 10 weeks. However, that order was not implemented. The state filed a review petition challenging the order, which was dismissed by a division bench of the HC in 2017.

    Further, in the year 2022, an instant writ petition was filed stating that there was delay in removal of encroachments made on railway land in the area. While hearing the matter, the HC directed the Nainital district administration to prepare a plan to remove the encroachment in coordination with the railway officials.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

But First, What Has the Supreme Court Noted?

The Supreme Court, in its order dated 5 January, noted the following:

  • “There cannot be uprooting of 50,000 people in seven days. We do believe that a workable arrangement is necessary to segregate people who may have no rights in the land who have to be removed, coupled with schemes of rehabilitation which may already exist, while recognising the need of the railways,” the bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and AS Oka said. 

  • It was mentioned in the court that the names of local residents are recorded in the house tax register of the Municipal Corporation and that they have been paying house tax regularly for years. 

  • The top court also noted that the said land has been occupied by the petitioners and their forefathers for a long time, in some cases even before Independence. This, the court noted, has been recognised by the state and its agencies as several residents have water and gas connections, and even Aadhaar cards basis their address on the said disputed land. 

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What Is the Land Dispute?

Locals from the area have claimed that their families have been living there for generations. Three days before the SC order staying eviction, The Quint was in Haldwani, and spoke to residents about the issue. Ishaan Singh, 29, a resident, had said, "If this land definitely belongs to the railways, then what is the state government doing here? Why are government schools, government health centers and inter colleges here (on this land)? The administration doesn't care about us, nor is it listening to us."

Apart from houses, there are also temples, mosques, tube wells, water tanks, primary schools, government schools in this area. In such a situation, calling them encroachments and calling for action is “completely wrong,” locals had claimed.

Meanwhile, citing a 2017 survey, the Railways has claimed that 29 acres of railway land has been encroached upon in Haldwani, in which 4,365 encroachers are present. The Railways, which was made party to the case only in 2016, has cited maps, revenue records from 1971, and the survey to prove their ownership of the land. 

According to a report, the 'Basti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti,' which was formed to defend the affected, says that the map presented by the Railways in the High Court is of 1959. At the same time, people have lease papers dating back to 1937; which means that the claim of the people is older than that of the railways.

The 2.2 kilometre strip of disputed land in Banbhulpura includes the slums of Gaffur Basti, which is adjascent to Haldwani railway station, Dholak Basti and Indira Nagar.

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Can Tracing the History of the Land Help Identify Its Actual Owner?

In the early 1800s, the township of Haldwani was a geographically non-existent township. In 1816, after a battle between the East India Company and the Bhotias of Nepal, the two parties signed an agreement called the Sagauli Treaty. Under the treaty, the regions of Garhwal and Kumaon were added to the East India Company, and later given to Nepal for Rs two lakh, the Uttarakhand HC order has mentioned.

The area of Haldwani Khas attained territorial existence in 1834 by the East India Company with a basic political intention — to give rights (including ownership and tillage of soil) to the residents of Bhawar area of Haldwani. These claims find mention in The Himalayan Gazetteer, which was compiled by ET Atkinson in 1882. 

In 1896, Thomas Gown, who was considered to be the proprietor of Haldwani, transferred his property to Dan Singh, the most eminent businessman of Pithorgarh District, The Himalayan Gazetteer states.

However, the transfer deed has not been seen by anyone. After this, different parts of the property were named after different persons, who started selling them. However, they had not purchased the property from Dan Singh through a registered or unregistered deed. 

As the township was being developed, the municipal department, through a memorandum dated 17 May 1907, notified that the area of Haldwani will be managed by it and as Nazul property, or land which has been taken over by the government. 

Who did the disputed land in Haldwani originally belong to? How have rights of the land been transferred over time?

Government Order/Office Memorandum No. 1748/XI-10-1907 dated May 17, 1907 and its contents.

(Photo: Screenshot of PIL)

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Then Where Lies the Dispute?

While the 1907 government order forms the basis of the petitioners claiming the land to be Nazul property, it may be argued that the order was merely administrative communication made by the Joint Secretary to the Commissioner of Kumaon district.

The main contention in this case is whether the land given to Dan Singh in 1896 would be considered Nazul land or not? And, if it is indeed Nazul land, then under which legal provision, and what will be considered the method of transfer of ownership rights of that property (land)?

In fact, the Uttarakhand HC had held that the disputed area is the property of the Railways and not Nazul land, as claimed by the residents. In a 176-page order, the HC had asserted that the office memo was not a government order and did not confer any rights on the defendants/encroachers.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

When Was the Matter First Taken to Court?

In 2013, the Uttarakhand HC was hearing a case against the illegal sand mining allegedly taking place in river Gaula, which flows through the Haldwani railway station. It was during the proceedings of this case that it was claimed that several residents living near the railway line were involved in the mining.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to remove the encroachment was first filed in the year 2013.

On 9 November 2016, the HC ordered the removal of encroachments from the said land within 10 weeks. However, that order was not implemented. The state filed a review petition challenging the order, which was dismissed by a division bench of the HC in 2017.

Further, in the year 2022, an instant writ petition was filed stating that there was delay in removal of encroachments made on railway land in the area. While hearing the matter, the HC directed the Nainital district administration to prepare a plan to remove the encroachment in coordination with the railway officials.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Uttarakhand   Haldwani   Haldwani Evictions 

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