After contempt notice, Defence pays up pending dues of occupied lands and homes in North Sikkim

Gangtok, 25 Jul:

The Defence Estate Officer, Siliguri Circle, today informed the High Court of Sikkim that the army has handed over a cheque for the remaining 50% of the hiring charge dues of land occupied by the Indian Army for the last 44 years in Lachen, Lachung and Chungthang areas of North Sikkim. This, after the division bench of the High Court had opened contempt proceedings against non compliance of the Court’s order directing the same.

The Defence Estate Officer, Siliguri Circle, Deepak Mohan, through an affidavit, informed that as per the demand placed by District Collector, North, in January earlier this year calculating the pending dues at Rs 1.92 crore (for payment for remaining 50% of hiring charges of land occupied by the Indian Army for the last 44 years in Lachen, Lachung and Chungthang area of North Sikkim), the cheque for the same has been handed over to the District Collector-North.

The bench had taken serious view of non-compliance of the court’s directions passed way back in the year 2014, and had issued contempt notices to Principal Director of Defence Estates, Directorate of Defence Estates, Eastern Command, Kolkata and Defence Estates Officer, Siliguri Circle, Siliguri on 05 May this year.

While passing the order in May earlier this year, the High Court had observed that “…It is well-settled that unless a direction of the Court is stayed or suspended by a superior court, the operation of the order cannot be arrested on account of administrative difficulties faced by the concerned authorities.”

However, the Court has only disposed of contempt proceeding after compliance report was filed by the Defence Estate officer of the Indian Army.

In the meantime, the Court has also directed the State Government to file a status report within a week on steps taken so far in respect of acquisition of land occupied by Indian Army in accordance with law.

The grievance of the petitioners in their Public Interest Litigation was that their land as well as houses has been occupied by the Indian Army without entering into an agreement to pay rental or hiring charges and without issuing any notification for acquisition of their lands and houses. The army is occupying 860.47 acres of public land in the areas in question since 1976 without any compensation.

Despite clear directions of the High Court in September 2014, the Army and the State Government have not adhered with the directions for payment of hiring charges and are not even vacating their land, the petitioners had complained afresh. The payment is for a dwelling house at Yakthang and private holdings in Lachen.

In September 2014, the High Court had directed to make payment to the landowners of Lachen and directed the state government to make a representation for payment to the Army as they had agreed to pay and that this process be completed no later than three months from the date of receipt of letter from State government.

The High Court had further directed the Central agencies to get final acquisition approval within six weeks and complete the acquisition proceedings within two months thereafter.

This is second time that the people of Lachen have taken legal recourse claiming the right to have fair compensation of their property and dwelling houses illegally and forcefully occupied by the army.