The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered status quo for eight weeks on a project to widen the road near Savitri Cinema intersection in Greater Kailash, south Delhi. A few hundred-meter patch is a traffic bottleneck, which is hanging fire for nearly a decade, and often leads to traffic jam for hours, especially during peak traffic hours.
A vacation bench comprising Justice Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi identified the project in public interest, but insisted that procedures in law cannot be overlooked.
The Delhi government initiated efforts in 2010 to acquire the land, which overlaps 469 square metre-land claimed and in possession of a Tata Group firm. The government's objective was to decongest Outer Ring Road. Since then the matter has been beset with several litigations.
In 2010-11, the Delhi government wrote to the firm asking it to vacate the area in order to ease traffic movement on the contentious patch. Tata Communications moved the High Court and got a stay, stating the land is in its rightful possession, as it was transferred to the firm legally after it had taken it over from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL). It rejected government claim that the firm has encroached on the land.
The court noted that in public interest, the government cannot take away anybody's property and if it has to be done, there is a due process. "When you acquire, you issue a notification", observed the court.
The government counsel argued that the matter is limited to only widening of the road as per the master plan, and that the government has already cleared the gas agency premises and the Delhi Jal Board office on the patch of land for the same purpose.
The Tata Group has sought proper compensation for the land, but the Delhi government has dragged its feet, claiming that records do not show the land was ever in possession of VSNL.
The Tata Group contested Delhi government's claim, stating it acquired erstwhile public sector unit VSNL management in 2000 along with its assets. It informed the court that the government is attempting to demolish the boundary wall of the property. The court observed that till the demarcation is done, there will be no demolition at all. "Till such time status quo should be maintained...and status quo will not stand in the way of demarcation of the land", said the court observing that the project is in overall public interest.
The zonal plan for road widening was approved in 2008.
In May, the Delhi High Court had allowed the PWD to take control of the land, and permitted it to carry out joint inspection, and also indicated that if after demarcation, it is established that Tata Group owns the land in question, then the group is certainly entitled to compensation.
The court has listed the matter in the second week of July.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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