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On “encroached” railway land in Haldwani, 4,000 households, three government schools, and one PHC reside.

Over 4,000 families in Haldwani, Nainital, greeted the New Year on a sour note. The morning newspapers published notices from North-Eastern Railways requiring the removal of all “illegal encroachments” from “railway kilometre 82.900 to 80.710” within one week. Otherwise, the notification stated, all encroachments would be removed and the money would be recouped from the intruders.

In Gafoor Basti and Dholak Basti, slums near the Haldwani Railway station, this was followed by repeated calls over loudspeakers urging residents to vacate the area, causing widespread panic.

On Monday, residents of Banbhulpura hold a candle march to protest the Uttarakhand High Court’s order to remove the encroachment near the Haldwani railway station. (ANI Image)

Since then, hundreds of people, primarily women, have been gathering in Haldwani during the afternoon namaz to protest the upcoming January 8 demolition. The Supreme Court will consider the appeals contesting the demolition on January 5.

The demolition order, which comes at the conclusion of a lengthy legal battle over the land, follows a High Court judgement issued last month mandating the removal of all encroachments along the railroad line. In 2016-2017, the railways and district administration identified 4,365 “encroachments” in the designated region in a joint survey.

After the afternoon namaz, hundreds of protesters, largely women, have been gathering in Haldwani to demand that the scheduled demolition on January 8 be halted.

(ANI Image)

The Railways assert that they possess old maps, a notification from 1959, revenue records from 1971, and the results of a survey conducted in 2017 as evidence of their ownership of the area.

However, the demonstrators assert that they have lived here for generations.

70-year-old Khairunisa, one of the demonstrators, states that she has spent her entire life in the house that is now threatened with demolition.

“I am here now but may not be around tomorrow; my concern is for my children and grandchildren. Where will they go if we demolish our house? “Did the railroads awaken only after the construction of residences, schools, and hospitals on this land?” she asked.

The affected area encompasses the slums of Gafoor Basti, Dholak Basti, and Indira Nagar, all of which are located in the Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani, and is home to at least three government schools, eleven accredited private schools, ten mosques, twelve madrassas, one government public health centre, and one temple.

The 61-year-old inhabitant of Banbhoolpura, Waris Shah Khan, stated, “The situation here is dire. We are terrified. On one side is our entire community, while on the other is the Gaula River. Where will we live if our homes are demolished?

This is the grave question presently facing the administration.

A staff member at the Government Girls’ Inter College (GGIC), which has more than 1,000 students and is now at risk of being demolished, stated that the institution was founded in 1952 as a junior high school before becoming a high school in 2003 and an inter-college two years later.

“We have not received any formal information regarding this school, but we have been informed that the railways hold this land. “I do not know what our pupils will do if the school is dismantled,” he stated.

Salauddin Ansari, a member of the school’s parent council, stated, “My older daughter Iram graduated from this school, and my younger daughters Ikra and Unjila are currently enrolled here. If the school closes, I am uncertain where they will study. This is the top college for women in the region.”

Indira Nagar’s Government Inter College (GIC) also resides on the damaged land. According to the school’s personnel, there are approximately 2,000 students enrolled.

140 pupils attend the Shiv Gopal Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir, which operates on the grounds of a Shiva temple and is located approximately 200 metres away.

“We are anxious. However, the district administration has committed to relocating us to a school within 500 metres. We must share space with another institution. This will certainly cause issues. Since the school has been for nearly four decades, we have kept records on each student. “We do not know where we will store our paperwork, computers, and books,” a member of the school’s administration stated.

According to information provided by Nainital District Magistrate Dhiraj Singh Garbiyal, there are at least eleven such recognised schools with a total of 2,333 kids in the impacted area. According to Garbiyal, efforts are in place to relocate these schools to those located “200 metres to 1.5 kilometres” away.

SDM Manish Singh stated, “We have already found a location (near Lalit Arya Kanya Inter College) and would construct temporary structures to resume teaching.”

Vivek Gupta, Railway Additional Divisional Railway Manager, Izzat Nagar, told The Indian Express that the issue was brought to court in 2013 after a petition was filed alleging illicit sand mining in the Gaula River, which flows alongside the Haldwani railway station.

“As a result of the writ petition, the subject of who engages in illegal mining and why arose, and it was discovered that people living near the railroad were engaging in such activities. The Railways was subsequently made a party, and the High Court ordered us to clear the land. The residents subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court, which ordered the High Court to also hear their case. The High Court ruled last month, after hearing all parties, that the land belongs to the Railways and must be cleared within a week’s notice. We must now comply with the directive,” said Gupta, adding that the Railways want this land to supply additional trains to the Kumaon region.

When asked why so many homes, mosques, temples, and even government institutions were permitted to be built on land claimed by the Railways, Gupta expressed “regret” and stated, “This (encroachment along railway lines) is a nationwide occurrence. We regret the situation. These are, with a few exceptions, predominantly mild encroachments. From the Railways’ perspective, we regret that so many encroachments have occurred,” he stated.


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