Pakistani Hindu Refugees occupying the Yamuna Floodplains; Matter before the National Green Tribunal

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It has recently come to notice that a few years ago, some 100 Pakistani Hindu families visited India on a pilgrimage visa. However, since then they have not returned back to their homes, rather found accommodation near the Yamuna foodplains, south of Majnu ka Tila and has been living there ever since in semi-permanent structures, commonly called jhuggis. Despite not having Indian citizenship, they have managed to get Aadhar cards, PAN Cards as well as bank accounts on their address in the said area. They have integrated with the mainland population and are continuing a normal life in India. The issue has resurfaced news as one Jagdev moved the National Green Tribunal [NGT] seeking action against the said encroachments, against such people. He alleges in his petition that due to their encroachment near the Yamuna river bed, there has been massive cutting down of trees, affecting the surroundings of the area and having an overall adverse effect on the environment. The land they have built residences on are green and technically is a part of the Yamuna floodplains.

View of the National Green Tribunal [NGT]:

The petition was brought before a bench of the NGT headed by Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel. He took a stringent view on the report prepared and submitted by Jagdev and has issued notices to the concerned authorities to explain how such an encroachment on the resource-rich area of the Yamuna floodplains was carried out. The Delhi Development Authority [DDA] has also been directed by the bench of the NGT to file an action taken report in the matter so reported and remove encroachment from the floodplains area. It has also come to record that these areas are not provided any electricity connection in the past five years. Rajeev Bansal also stated that even water supply has been recently allotted to them via common taps. The encroachment is now on going to an extent that these families have built temporary shops around the footpath to earn a living.

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The chairman of the NGT has taken up this matter seriously and said that the law of the land applies to everyone in the same manner, whether it be an Indian Citizen or a refugee. He said that permitting them refugee status in India is a viable option, but this doesn’t give them the right to illegally occupy land and disturb the ecosystem. 

Another judicial member present on the bench K Ramkrishanan was of the view to strictly view these population of refugee as human beings. He said that first they are refugees and secondly, they are legal refugees. Therefore, why not treat them as human beings and give them all the required facilities to lead a life of dignity?

The bench is also taking the suggestion of the rehabilitation of these victim to somewhere else, by striking a balance between the competing interests.

 

Inspection by Officials:

The details stated in the report have been collected by an inspection of a team of officials consisting of officers from the Delhi Government, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). DDA, which is a party to the case, given its mandate was represented by senior advocate Rajv Bansal and advocate Kush Sharma. They have divulged the information gathered while on inspection. The advocates stated on record that over 120 families and approximately 700 people, who are Pakistani Hindu nations had come to India on a pilgrimage visa from 2011 to 2014. However since then they have never returned and now have started to build semi-permanent structures in the Yamuna floodplains and occupied some 5000 square yards of land. The report stated that:

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“From the information gathered from occupants, it was informed that they were asked to occupy this place by government officials but there was no such written permission with the occupants. The above land belongs to land and development office under Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs which was transferred to DDA on July 7, 1971 for care and maintenance,”

 

Letter from Ministry of Home Affairs:

It is not as if their presence in India till now had gone completely unnoticed, one another pending litigation in this behalf with the Minsitry of Home Affairs [MHA] is the issue of grant of Indian citizenship or long term visa to these Pakistani Nationals who had originally come to India on a pilgrimage visa, years ago. Ministry of Home Affairs has previously responded to this issue via a letter in August, 2013. The letter was issued by the Deputy Secretary Home/Passport, GNTCD directing the DCP to conduct the proceeding of the formalities required and extend assistance to these people enabling them to apply for long term visa. MHA has previously also recommended in the matter that the migrants should be treated with utmost consideration and in accordance with the laws of the land and the legal framework in India for the grant of long term visa and citizenship.

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Once before in the matter, the Delhi Government was also directed to submit a status report to the Ministry of Home Affairs about the living conditions of these Pakistani nationals and the stock of their infrastructure.

 

The plea also reveals that the commercial shops and stalls established by these people living in jhuggis and permanent establishments are resulting in massive traffic hams because of their encroachment. Moreover, they have come to occupy the footpath which is causing problems to the pedestrians and causing environmental issues. The green belt was in a manner deforested by these nations, felling of trees for building accommodation for themselves. This has resulted in the ‘rapid shrinking of the green belt’. To bring evidence of the depletion of the green belt in this area, the Google Maps of the area of 2015 and 2017 were being compared and relied on. Moreover, an everyday life on the banks of Yamuna results in disposal of sewage and garbage in the Yamuna riverfront, which is going ahead to cause irreparable damage to the river ecosystem, flora and fauna of the riverbed, the plea suggested.

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