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Olga Tellis Judgement- UPSC Current Affairs

Apr 26, 2022

olga tellis judgement

Upgrade your UPSC exam preparation with your daily dose of Current Affairs in our Current Affairs Dialog Box- News Gists for UPSC. In our today’s edition, we will talk about Olga Tellis Judgement. This topic has relevance to the CSE syllabus in the following ways:

For Prelims: Supreme Court

For Mains: Judgements & Cases, Judiciary, Urbanisation, Their Problems & Remedies

Here is yesterday’s edition of the Current Affairs Dialog box in case you missed reading it.  

Why in the News?

 A 37-year-old Constitution Bench judgement of the Supreme Court is of the view that pavement dwellers are different from trespassers.

 Olga Tellis Judgement

Image Source: Hindustan Times

Probable Question

Examine the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution in the light of the Olga Tellis Judgement given by the Supreme Court.


The case started in 1981 when the State of Maharashtra and the Bombay Municipal Corporation decided that pavement and slum dwellers in Bombay city should be evicted and “deported to their respective places of origin or places outside the city of Bombay.”

Key Points

About Olga Tellis Judgement

  • The judgement, Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation, in 1985 agrees that pavement dwellers do occupy public spaces unauthorised. 
  • However, the court maintained they should be given a chance to be heard and a reasonable opportunity to depart “before force is used to expel them.”
  • The Supreme Court reasoned that eviction using unreasonable force, without giving them a chance to explain is unconstitutional.
  • Further, the Court opined that Pavement dwellers, too, have a right to life and dignity. 
    • The right to life included the right to livelihood. 
  • A welfare state and its authorities should not use its powers of eviction as a means to deprive pavement dwellers of their livelihood.

What were the questions discussed before the Supreme Court?

  • One of the main questions was whether eviction of a pavement dweller would amount to depriving him/her of their livelihood guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. 
  • The Constitution Bench was also asked to determine if provisions in the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888, allowing the removal of encroachments without prior notice, were arbitrary and unreasonable. 
  • The Supreme Court also decided to examine the question whether it was constitutionally impermissible to characterise pavement dwellers as trespassers.

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What was the State Government’s defence?

  • The State government and the corporation countered that pavement dwellers should be stopped from contending that the shacks constructed by them on the pavements cannot be demolished because of their right to livelihood.
  • They cannot claim any fundamental right to encroach and put-up huts on pavements or public roads over which the public has a ‘right of way.’
About Estoppel

  • It is a judicial device whereby a court may prevent or “estop” a person from making assertions.
  •  Estoppel may prevent someone from bringing a particular claim.

How did the Supreme Court rule on various questions involved in the Case?

  • On Right to Life:
    • The Bench threw out the government’s argument of estoppel, saying “there can be no estoppel against the Constitution.” 
    • The court held that the right to life of pavement dwellers were at stake here. 
    • The right to livelihood was an “integral component” of the right to life. They can come to court to assert their right. 
    • Any person who is deprived of his right to livelihood except according to just and fair procedure established by law, can challenge the deprivation as offending the right to life.
  •  Procedure of Eviction:
    • The court held that to remove encroachments without prior notice is arbitrary and to remove an encroachment in an arbitrary manner should be an “exception” and not the “general rule” for authorities.
    • The procedure of eviction should lean in favour of procedural safeguards which follow the natural principles of justice like giving the other side an opportunity to be heard. 
    • The right to be heard gives affected persons an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process and also provides them with a chance to express themselves with dignity.
  • On Pavement Dwellers:
    • The court emphatically objected to authorities treating pavement dwellers as mere trespassers.
    • It is not as if they have a free choice to exercise as to whether to commit an encroachment and if so, where. 
    • The encroachment committed by these persons are involuntary acts in the sense that those acts are compelled by inevitable circumstances and are not guided by choice.

Article 21: 

  • It declares that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. 
  • This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.
  • The Supreme Court has declared the following rights in the Menaka case as part of Article 21:
    • Right to live with human dignity. 
    • Right to a decent environment including pollution free water and air and protection against hazardous industries.
    • Right to livelihood.
    • Right to privacy.
    • Right to shelter. 
    • Right to health.
    • Right to free education up to 14 years of age.
    • Right to free legal aid.

News Source: The Hindu

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