Understanding the Olga Tellis judgment

What is the News?

The Supreme Court Judgment in the “Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation,1985” may become a game-changer in the Jahangirpuri case. 

What is the Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation Judgment?

Background: In 1981, Bombay Municipal Corporation had decided that pavement and slum dwellers in Bombay city should be evicted and deported to their respective places of origin or places outside the city of Bombay. This was challenged before the Supreme Court.

Questions before Supreme Court: 

Firstly, whether eviction of a pavement dweller would amount to depriving him/her of their livelihood guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Secondly, provisions in the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 allowing the removal of encroachments without prior notice were arbitrary and unreasonable. 

Thirdly, whether it was constitutionally impermissible to characterize pavement dwellers as trespassers.

What were the State Government’s arguments?

The government has said that the pavement dwellers should be estopped (Estoppel is a judicial device whereby a court may prevent or estop a person from making assertions. It basically prevents someone from bringing a particular claim).

Moreover, slum dwellers cannot claim any fundamental right to encroach and put up huts on pavements or public roads over which the public has a ‘right of way.’

What was the ruling of the Supreme Court?

Right to be heard: The Supreme Court agreed that pavement dwellers do occupy public spaces unauthorized. However, the court maintained they should be given a chance to be heard and a reasonable opportunity to depart before force is used to expel them.

Right to Livelihood: The court rejected the State Government’s argument of estoppel. It held that the right to life of pavement dwellers was at stake here. The right to livelihood was an integral component of the right to life. Hence, they can come to court to assert their right. 

Treating Pavement dwellers as Trespassers: The Court objected to authorities treating pavement dwellers as mere trespassers. The Court said that pavement dwellers manage to find a habitat in places which are mostly filthy or marshy, out of sheer helplessness.

Source: This post is based on the article Understanding the Olga Tellis judgmentpublished in The Hindu on 25th April 2022

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