Making several scathing observations, the court also directed the state to allot house sites to men and transsexual persons on par with women.

Ground of houses in Andhra Pradesh under government housing scheme Twitter/APStateHousing
news Court Sunday, October 10, 2021 - 14:19

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed the state government to immediately halt the construction of houses for the poor as the scheme violated the rule of law and the Constitution besides various rules. It also directed the state government to set up an expert committee to examine a gamut of issues related to the scheme, including the possible health hazards to beneficiaries, and elicit public opinion before proceeding further. The Court declared as "illegal and arbitrary" various clauses in three different government orders (GOs) relating to the Pedalandariki Illu scheme and said they were "inconsistent with one another".

The Court, in particular reference to these GOs, commented that the "state has no definite policy" and it changed from time to time. It also set aside a particular clause in one of the GOs (wherein all allotments were made only to women beneficiaries) saying it was "unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary and violative of Articles 14, 15 (1) of the Constitution of India". It defeated the object of Article 39 of the Constitution of India and violated Articles 7 and 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The HC directed the state to allot house sites to men and transsexual persons on par with women, subject to their eligibility. "The whole process being undertaken for such large-scale of project is too vague and unscientific. Allotment of land must be founded on sound, transparent, discernable and well-defined policy. There is any amount of mischief in the process of allotment," Justice M Satyanarayana Murthy observed, delivering a verdict late on Friday night on a batch of writ petitions challenging the process of allotment of house sites and construction of houses for the poor.

The size of house proposed to be built under the scheme Pedalandariki Illu (housing for all the poor) in both urban and rural areas was not in accordance with the National Building Code, the AP Building Rules, 2017, and the model building bye-laws issued by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the judge noted.

"The state is bound to follow the guidelines issued by World Health Organisation while providing house sites to houseless poor for construction of houses. But the state did not take them into consideration while allotting minimum site of one cent in municipal areas and 1.5 cents in gram panchayats for construction of houses by houseless poor," Justice Satyanarayana Murthy added.

In any view of the matter, approved layouts were not in consonance with the Andhra Pradesh Building Rules, 2017. Guidelines issued under the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana were also not followed, the court observed. 

"It is highly difficult for anyone to raise construction in the limited area of 48.4 square yards in municipalities. On account of cluster housing and group housing, the environment impact and health hazards, fire safety, adequacy of drinking water and facilities to drain out sullage water is to be examined by the state before insisting the allottees to construct house in the site allotted to them," Justice Satyanarayana Murthy said.

Coming down heavily on the beneficiary selection process, the Judge remarked that "any amount of mischief can be played for identification, especially since the power of conducting enquiry is vested with the village/ward volunteers whose competency is highly doubtful."

Persons belonging to the ruling party were given prime plots, though not eligible, he noted. "When some beneficiaries questioned the concerned (officials) about the process being implemented, who in turn, gave a reply that whatever given is a charity. This sort of attitude is highhanded and a colourable exercise of power," the judge observed.

He said the whole approach was in violation of rule of law, a basic feature of the Constitution and its fabric. The process of allotment/assignment (of land) to the weaker sections of the society was not a charity, but part of the obligation of the state as per the Directive Principles of State policy and a Constitutional goal, he stressed.

Justice Satyanarayana Murthy directed the government to enhance the plot area, if necessary by acquiring more land, allotted to the beneficiaries and modify the layouts based on the report of the experts’ committee. He ordered that all construction activity in the sites be stopped till the completion of such exercise.

Reacting to the single judge's order, state Municipal Administration Minister Botsa Satyanarayana requested the court not to go by technical aspects and appreciate the "spirit" behind the scheme. "The intention of the government is to ensure housing for all poor in the state. Hence the massive programme. We will raise an appeal in the court seeking a reconsideration of the whole issue," the Minister said.

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