Who is responsible for encroachments on Comunidade land?

| APRIL 13, 2024, 12:38 AM IST

It was a sea of high emotion as man and machinery began demolition of the 22 structures on the Comunidade property in Sangolda on Friday morning following a High Court order. Scenes of residents pleading with officials to spare their homes and give them more time to vacate fell on deaf ears as JCBs brought down concrete structures in the property.

On the flip side, there was a sense of helplessness with officials stating that they would be held for contempt of the court orders. The seriousness with which the court saw the delays was reflected in its directive that the cost of demolition amounting to Rs 81,249, or its delay in payment, should not come in the way of the exercise.

The Sangolda encroachment case which began in 2012 has gone through a series of legal tangles with even the involvement of the Supreme Court, and it was obvious that authorities were dragging their feet on one pretext or the other, including the excuse of the Code of Conduct being into force which the court refused to take cognisance. “The reasons stated by the Deputy Collector are not convincing and repeatedly we find that even the Public Works Department, which is supposed to cooperate with the Deputy Collector and other agencies for carrying out demolitions and removing encroachments are giving excuses,” the court had observed.

On Friday, as the demolition began, there was high action with one man trying to self-immolate, another falling off the roof while removing tiles and hurting himself, people pleading to spare their houses, and even a social activist coming in the way. The pleas fell on deaf ears and goodwill and political loyalty had to bite the dust, as people saw their residence go down.

While the law has to be respected at all costs, there is this humane angle that lay buried in such demolitions. The 22 structures in survey number 81/1 of Sangolda are held illegal, but surprisingly they have valid ration cards, electricity connections water connections and other documents that show their address as Sangolda. Some of those affected have been residents of the area for nearly 40 years and a few of them are born right there.

The question here is, who has given them this legality if the land is encroached on, and where are these people who have led them here? It is obvious that a few leaders have exploited loopholes in the flawed Comunidade system, possibly for a price or a give-and-take.

In November last year, around 64 illegal structures on a Sancoale Comunidade properties in Zuarinagar were demolished, days after the State government announced plans to regularise illegal structures on Comunidade land. Similar scenes, like the ones in Sangolda, unfolded in Zuarinagar too and people were eventually left homeless.

The question is, who is responsible for the plight of such people? Let us not be fooled by the argument that these people happily squatted on land which they saw vacant and claimed to be their own. The lobbies, within and outside the Comunidade, and the bureaucrats who have turned a blind eye towards such unholy manoeuvres and nurtured that unrealistic hope must be held responsible.

Homelessness is no doubt an emotive issue that touches the heart of humankind, but giving refuge through illegal ways is criminal because people are being led towards that path, despite the understanding that there is despair and helplessness ahead. The Sangolda and Zuarinagar demolitions should be an eye-opener for all those who fall into the trap of finding comfort in such land illegalities.

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