The Kerala High Court set aside the assignment of 5.5 hectares of land in Wayanad to a church for a nominal fee, stating that the government's action had deeply hurt the aspirations of landless tribal communities awaiting land allotments.

The petitioners, who were social workers representing landless tribal communities in Wayanad District, Kerala, challenged the assignment of government land to the 5th respondent, St. George Forane Church Kallody, at a nominal price of Rs. 100 per acre.

A Bench of Justice P.V. Kunhikrishnan held, “When there is injustice, arbitrariness, and flagrant violation of law, the hands of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution are not restricted. Poor landless tribals are agitating to get lands for their livelihood and agriculture. Their agitation reached up to the Secretariat of the State. Thousands of applications of tribals are pending for getting land is the contention of the petitioners. In such a situation, as per Ext.P5, huge Government land is assigned to the 5th respondent invoking the powers of the Land Assignment Act and Rules. I am of the considered opinion that this is not only illegal but infringes the constitutional rights of the tribals including the petitioners. This is nothing but piercing a knife to the hearts of the innocent ever smiling tribals in Wayanad. This Court cannot shut its eyes to these illegalities.”

Advocate Sajith Kumar appeared for the Petitioners and Government Pleader Ashwin Sethumadhavan and Advocate G. Sreekumar (Chelur) appeared for the Respondents.

The petitioners argued that this assignment overlooked the needs of hundreds of landless tribal families waiting for residential plots. The petitioners highlighted the socio-economic challenges faced by tribal communities in Kerala and cite historical agreements promising land distribution to tribal communities.

The 5th respondent Church, however, justified its possession of the land, citing its establishment before 1955 and various activities and institutions, including schools and a cemetery, located on the property. The 5th respondent claimed it had applied for land rights since the 1950s.

The Court examined relevant rules and precedents and concluded that the assignment to the 5th respondent, despite being an encroacher, lacked public interest justification. The Court said, “there is absolutely no public interest in this case to assign this much of land to the 5th respondent, who is admittedly an encroacher. Simply because some educational institutions and religious institutions or cemetery are constructed after the encroachment, the land cannot be assigned stating "public interest". Rule 24 has no application at all in this case.

The Court emphasized that government land assignments are meant to benefit the landless and downtrodden, not enrich those who encroach on government land. The Court added, “After encroachment on land, if churches or schools or other buildings are constructed on the Government's land, can the Government assign the land based on "public interest"? I am of the considered opinion that encroachers of government land are not entitled to any equity and there is no public interest to assign a property when there is admitted encroachment. The state machinery may be in difficulty to identify every encroachment in different parts of its territory. But once the encroachment is found out, the state machinery should work immediately to repossess the land, even if the encroachment is decades back, unless there is a legal impediment in taking possession of the same. No equity is available to such encroachers.

It cited rules prioritizing assignment to eligible individuals and families and emphasized the need to rectify injustices.

Consequently, the Court quashed the assignment to the 5th respondent and directed the government to assess the market value of the property and offer the 5th respondent an option to purchase it at market value. If the 5th respondent declined, the government was ordered to evict them and distribute the land to eligible persons.

The Court mandated an Action Taken Report from the government and emphasized the utilization of proceeds for tribal welfare if the land was to be sold.

Cause Title: K. Mohandas & Ors. v. The State Of Kerala & Ors.


Petitioners: Advocates Sajith Kumar, V. Sri. P.K. Antony

Respondents: Advocates Ashwin Sethumadhavan, Sri. G. Sreekumar

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