Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Olga Tellis & Ors. v Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors.

 Olga Tellis & Ors. v Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors. (AIR 1986 SC 18)

The case arose from a writ petition filed by the petitioners in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32, contesting the decision of the Respondents, the State of Maharashtra and the Bombay Municipal Corporation, to destroy slums and pavement houses.

C.J., Y.V. Chandrachud, J., A.V. Varadarajan, J., O. Chinnappa Reddy, J., S. Murtaza Fazal Ali, and J., V.D. Tulzapurkar made up the Hon'ble Bench that determined the case.

The petitioners' arguments

  1. that such demolitions amounted to a breach of the right to livelihood, which may be interpreted alongside the right to life under Article 21.

  2. That the respondents' actions will infringe on the petitioners' right under Article 19 (e) (g).

  3. That Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888, was arbitrary since it allowed the Municipal Commissioner to order the clearance of encroachments without notifying the parties affected.

  4. That the petitioners' encroachment on the pavement was motivated by economic need, and hence naming them trespassers would be unconstitutional.

Arguments of the respondent-

  1. The petitioners should be estopped from claiming that the demolition of slums and pavement dwellings violated their right to livelihood because they admitted before the High Court that they did not claim any fundamental right to put up huts on public passage routes and had given an undertaking to the High Court that they would not obstruct the demolition of the huts after October 15, 1981.

  2. No one has the authority to convert public property to private use. That the right to dwell and settle in any part of India's territory provided by Article 19(e) cannot be interpreted as a right to intrude on or trespass on public property.

  3. The Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, Sections 312, 313, and 314, do not contradict the Constitution and are enacted in the public interest.

  4. That the slum hutments beside the Western Express Highway in Vile Parle were built on an ancillary road that was part of the Highway itself, and that the Corporation did not regularise them or grant them registration numbers.

  5. That the expulsion of slum and pavement dwellers from public locations does not constitute any deprivation of life, either directly or indirectly. The Municipal Corporation is required to remove impediments on public roadways and other public areas under Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act.

The Judgement- Right to Work

At the outset, the Court disregarded the respondent's contention that the petitioner could not assert the fundamental right to livelihood due to the operation of the law of estoppel. There could be no estoppel against the Constitution, the Court ruled. Fundamental Rights were granted to fulfil the objective in the Preamble, and no one could trade away the rights so conferred by way of Fundamental Rights.

In the matter at hand, the Court noted that people in the petitioners' position lived in slums and on the streets because they had low-wage employment in the metropolis. That many preferred to live on the streets or in slums near their workplace to avoid commute costs that were far too high in comparison to their meagre wages. As a result, losing the sheds meant losing a job.

The Court further noted that, while the petitioners were utilising public property for private purposes, they had no intention of committing an offence, intimidate, insult, or irritate anybody, which is the essence of the crime of 'Criminal Trespass' as defined by S.441 of the Indian Penal Code. They were compelled to reside there owing to financial constraints.

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