“Olga Tellis Case”- Olga Tellis Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985 [2020]

Author- Seep Gupta
College- Institute of Law, Jiwaji University

Court: In the Supreme Court of India (Civil Original Jurisdiction)

Citation: 10 July 1985

Case No: Writ Petition (Civil) No.- 4610-12/81, 5068-79 of 1981

Petitioner: Olga Tellis & Ors.

Respondent: Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors.

Bench: Chandrachud, Y.V. (CJ) Fazal Ali, Syed Murtaza Tulzapurkar, V.D. Reddy, O. Chinnappa (J), Varadarajan, A. (J)

Keywords: Olga Tellis Case, Olga Tellis Case Brief, Olga Tellis Case Summary, Olga Tellis Vs Bombay Municipal Corporation, Olga Tellis Case Comment

Introduction: Olga Tellis Case

The Olga Tellis case involves one of the most important articles of the Indian Constitution i.e. Right to life which is given in Article 21. This case is related to the forceful eviction of the slum dwellers and the people who were residing on the pavements. This case came as a writ petition by pavement and slum dwellers in Bombay, seeking permission to be allowed to restrain the order by the Bombay Municipal Corporation and to be allowed the slum dwellers and pavement dwellers to stay there during the monsoon.

This case analysis will deal with one of the crucial questions that were raised in the case that whether the right to livelihood comes under the garb of, ‘Right to Life’ and whether Bombay Municipal Corporation can evict slum dwellers without issuing any notice.  

Facts of the Case:

In the year 1981, Bombay Municipal Corporation in the state of Bombay (now Mumbai) Maharashtra decided to evict the people who were residing on the pavements and slum dwellers. According to them, these people have illegally encroached the public pavement and public highway causing a grave number of difficulties in road traffic and the smooth functioning of traffic-related law and order.

The then Chief Minister of Maharashtra A.R. Antulay ordered on July 13 to forcefully evict the slum and pavement dwellers and to rehabilitate them at another place. The eviction was directed by the authorities under the guidelines of Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888.

On hearing this decision of Bombay Municipal Corporation the petitioners filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court to restrain the orders from implementation by authorities of B.M.C. under the directions and guidelines issued by the then Chief Minister of Bombay.

On hearing the petitions which were filed by the pavement and slum dwellers the Bombay high court passed an ad-interim order restricting the Bombay Municipal Corporation to implement its decision till 1981. B.M.C. agreed on this, but it later broke the argument, and petitioners were forced to evict their dwellings and later being deported by state transport.

Aggrieved by the decision of the Bombay Municipal Corporation the petitioners filed two writ petitions number one- 4610-12/81 for slum dwellers and number two- 5068-79 of 1981 for the residents of Kamraj Nagar Basti which was located near the western express highway, Bombay.

The petitioners claimed and challenged the same in the Supreme Court of India that the decision taken by the Bombay Municipal Corporation is violative of Articles 19 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. They also challenged that Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 is inconsistent and violates Article 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Issues:

There were several issues which were raised in this renowned case. These are mentioned below:-

  • Estoppels of Fundamental rights or can someone waive their fundamental rights?
  • The ambit of ‘Article 21’ of the Indian Constitution.
  • Does ‘Right to Life’ (Given under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution) also include Right to livelihood?
  • Constitutionality of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888
  • Whether slum and pavement dwellers are ‘trespassers’ and criminals under the provisions mentioned under the Indian Penal Code, 1860?

Sections mentioned:

  • Article 21 of the Indian Constitution:- In this article, it is given that no person shall be deprived of life and personal dignity except according to the procedure established by law. A person has the full right to live a peaceful and dignified life.
  • Article 19(1)(e) of the Indian Constitution:- This article only applies to the citizens of this country. According to this article of the Indian Constitution, any citizen of this country can travel and reside in any part of this country.
  • Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution This article also only applies to the citizens of this country. According to this article of the Indian Constitution, any citizen has the right to practice any profession and has the right to carry on any trade or any occupation.
  • Article 14 of the Indian Constitution This is a very crucial article that defines the ‘Right to Equality’. Everyone from the president to the common class citizen of this country is equal in the eyes of law. Law does not provide special privileges to any person.
  • Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888- According to this section of Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 notices and can be used and the government has full authority to demolish unauthorized and illegal buildings which are in deplorable conditions and which covers the area of public highways and roads and are situated here.

Arguments raised by Appellants:

  • The council on behalf of the petitioner argued that, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. Evicting the slum and pavement dwellers from their residence is unconstitutional as it would violate their right to life and would further deprive them of basic amenities and facilities.
  • The proposed and impugned action of the Bombay Municipal Corporation of evicting the slum and pavement dwellers is violative of Articles 19(1)(3), 19(1)(g) and Article 21 of Indian Constitution.
  • The procedure prescribed under Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 is arbitrary and unreasonable action. It is because it does not provide issuing of any notice before removing any encroachment. The guidelines which are given under this section proposed that the authorities have the power to remove any encroachment without giving any notice beforehand.
  • It was not appropriate and it was unconstitutional to call pavement and slum dwellers as trespassers because most of the work they were indulged in arose out of financial and economic compulsions.
  • The counsel on behalf of the petitioner also claimed that court must determine the larger question of equality which is given in the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and also the ambit and scope of Article 21 which provides for the right to life and personal dignity in the Indian Constitution.

Arguments raised by Respondents:

  • The council on behalf of the respondents argued that the petitioners earlier in the Bombay high court claimed that they did not claim any fundamental rights to install their residence and cabins on the pavements and near the highway and that would not oppose their demolition after the scheduled date.
  • No person irrespective of anything has any right to encroach or to construct any building on any public pavement or highway. Public properties are not personal. Every one has right over them equally. The right conferred by the Indian Constitution under Article 19(1)(e) to reside and settle in any part of the country does not confer any sort of license to encroach any public place or pavement. 
  • That the sections 312, 313, and 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888 do not violate the constitution and they are conceived in the great public interest by the public authorities and utmost care is taken by the authorities to ensure that no harassment is caused to any pavement and slum dwellers by enforcing the provisions mentioned under these sections.
  • The counsel on the behalf of the respondents also contended that no deprivation of life and livelihood is directly or indirectly involved with the eviction of slum and pavement dwellers from public places.
  • The Bombay Municipal Corporation is under an obligation under Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act 1888, to remove the illegal encroachments from public places. The petitioner not only violated the said section of this act but also violated Sections 111 and Section 115 of the Bombay Police Act.

Judgement at a Glance:

There are following points which judges mentioned in their judgement. They are mentioned below:-

  1. No person irrespective of anything has right to encroach on any public place, pavement, road, highway and expressway.
  2. The contention from the petitioner side that the slum and pavement dwellers were evicted without giving any notice did not hold much sense in this case. Section 314 of Bombay Municipal Corporation Act is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary in nature. It is not necessary to issue a notice for the proposed action. It would further delay the eviction as slum dwellers could delay the eviction under the garb of notice.
  3. The court also gave a verdict that those residents who were registered for an alternate rehabilitation program in 1976 should be given separate place for residents.
  4. Slum existing for more than 20 years should not be removed unless the land is required for public purposes and in his case, alternative sites should be provided to homeless people.
  5. High priority should be given to resettlement. 

Precedents:

S.L. Kapoor Vs. Jagmohan & Ors[1]

In this case, one of the provisions of New Delhi Municipal Corporation was challenged on the ground that it was in violation of natural justice as no showcase notice was issued before the order of suppression was passed. In this case, it was argued that whether the failure to present notice and to observe the principles of natural justice would have made a difference.

E. P. Royappa Vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Anr.[2]

The procedure adopted by the authorities to curb Article 21 of the Indian Constitution should be reasonable and fair in the eyes of law and the constitution. No one can be deprived of life and personal dignity except according to the procedures established by law.

Olga Tellis Case Judgement:

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which right to life. It does not only mean the right to a mere animal existence. This already been defined in Khadak Singh Case and Maneka Gandhi Case. The Supreme Court in this case defined the wide ambit of right to life. It said that the right to life includes all the facilities and all the crucial conditions which are required by the normal body to function.

Justice Chandrachud said in this case that right to livelihood is also a sub-part of the right to life. It is an important facet of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The easiest way of depriving of right to life is by snatching the right of livelihood.

The court perfectly tried to establish the nexus between the needs of slum and pavement dwellers and the legislation and also focused the need to establish a welfare state where everyone can flourish with equality and in a harmonious way.

Conclusion:

I believe that the court has taken an appropriate decision keeping in mind the statements from both the parties. Right to life is crucial but it is not an exclusive right. No one has any right to against any said provision and has any right to encroach any public place. The problem of migration and of homeless people is a very wide problem and immediate steps need to be taken to rehabilitate them.

References:

[1] 1981 AIR 136, 1981 SCR (1) 746

[2] 1974 AIR 555, 1974 SCR (2) 348

Anjali Dhingra, ‘Olga Tellis V Bombay Municipal Corporation’ (2019) https://blog.ipleaders.in/olga-tellis-v-bombay-municipal-corporation/ accessed 02 October 2020

Prasun Sarkar, ‘Olga Tellis V Bombay Municipal Corporation (2020) https://indianlegalsolution.com/olga-tellis-v-bombay-municipal-corporation/ accessed 02 October 2020

Olga Tellis Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation (10 July 1985) https://indiankanoon.org/doc/709776/ accessed 02 October 2020

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