Guwahati: The Gauhati High Court has directed the Assam government to issue the requisite notification for formation of public land protection cells in each district of the state to deal with complaints pertaining to encroachments on government land.

The direction was passed by the division bench of the Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Mitali Thakuria recently after the petitioners had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) alleging that certain individuals have illegally encroached on a plot of government land measuring 2 bighas 5 kathas 8 lechas in Sutirpur village of Nagaon district which was in possession of the water resources department since the year 1955-56.

The petitioners had approached the court through the petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

The petitioners asserted in the writ petition that before approaching the court, numerous complaints were filed before the concerned authority in relation to the illegal act of encroachment but without fetching any fruitful result.

Thereupon, the petitioners were compelled to approach the court by way of this petition, seeking issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the respondent authorities to take appropriate action against the illegal occupants on government lands and to demolish the structures raised thereupon.

The court noted that the PIL involved multiple issues of facts, the adjudication of which would not be possible without proper evidence.

It also noted that in another PIL filed in 2018, the court on March 2, 2023, directed the Chief Secretary, Government of Assam to devise a permanent mechanism to deal with such complaints pertaining to encroachments.

The court had ordered the state to periodically notify the general public to lodge the complaints/representations with regard to such encroachments to specially designated Public Land Protection Cell (PLPC).

“The mechanism was to be operational in every district of the state where the district collector of the district would be required to periodically notify the general public to lodge the complaints/representations with regard to such encroachments to a specially designated public land protection cell (PLPC). The PLPC, to be constituted only for looking after issues of rural areas, should be headed by the district collector and shall function under his direction and supervision,” the court had ordered.

“Upon complaints/representations of this nature being received, the PLPC shall get such allegations made therein enquired into by deputing the concerned revenue officers so as to verify the factum of encroachments having taken place. If the allegations are found to be substantiated, appropriate lawful steps for removal of the encroachments shall be taken against the trespassers,” the court stated.

“The complaints/representations received by the PLPC should be decided after objective consideration by passing a speaking order informing the respective complainant/representation maker about the action taken,” it stated.

The court further stated that the “Advocate General, Assam shall take up the matter with the concerned authority for establishing a similar grievance redressal mechanism in the municipal areas as well. This would obviate the necessity of the persons aggrieved approaching the court directly by way of public interest litigation. Needless to say that action to be taken by the PLPC shall keep into account the plea of the alleged encroachers and would not take a one sided action.”

However, Advocate General, Assam, D. Saikia submitted that the earlier order passed in March could not be communicated to the authorities and thus, notification for constituting the public land protection cells has not been issued till date.

Subsequently, the court directed that the copy of the order be provided to the Advocate General forthwith, who has been asked to instruct the state authorities to issue the requisite notification for formation of public land protection cells in each district.

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On May 24, the state had informed the court that the process for putting in place the mechanism of constituting the public land protection cells in all the districts of Assam has been initiated.

The Advocate General has sought three weeks time so that the modalities could be finalised and placed on record.

Also Read | PIL by Gauhati HC prompts 4 NE states to take steps for police reforms

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