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Kerala – High Court quashes government assignment of land to encroacher church at ₹100 per acre

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Kerala High Court quashed the State government’s 2015 decision to assign 5.5358 hectares of land at ₹100 per acre to the Kallodi St. George Forane Church which had encroached on the said land.

Justice PV Kunhikrishnan opined that the government’s decision was a violation of the constitutional rights of persons from tribal communities, especially when there are thousands of landless tribals in the district.

“Poor landless tribals are agitating to get lands for their livelihood and agriculture… In such a situation, as per Ext.P5 (government order), huge Government land is assigned to the 5th respondent (church) invoking the powers of the Land Assignment Act and Rules. I am of the considered opinion that this is not only illegal but infringes the constitutional rights of the tribals including the petitioners. This is nothing but piercing a knife to the hearts of the innocent ever smiling tribals in Wayanad,” the Court said.

Pertinently, the Court said that encroachers of government land are not entitled to any equity and there is no public interest to assign a property when there is admitted encroachment.

“There is no vested right in any person to claim assignment on the registry of Government land. Encroaching on the government land and making illegal constructions on it will not give any vested right to encroachers. The government land should be allotted to the downtrodden and not to the wealthy and mighty people,” the Court added.

Even though it quashed the government order that assigned the land to the church, the Court said that the church ought to be given an opportunity to purchase the property at the present market value.

If the church is not agreeable, then the government must recover the land and distribute it to eligible persons. If the church purchases the land, the entire amount received from the sale must be utilised for the welfare of the tribal community in Wayanad, the Court ordered.

If the church is unwilling to buy the property, then they must be evicted within six months after the offer is communicated to them, the Court ordered.

The Court also ordered the State government to file an action taken report within eight months.

The judgment was rendered on a petition moved by a group of social workers who belong to the landless tribal community in Wayanad.

It was submitted that the church illegally encroached upon the 5.5358 hectares of land in Mananthavady Taluk of Wayanad District from 1962 onwards.

Inputs – Bar&Bench

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