All major cities in India have turned into slums, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while allowing the Railways to remove unauthorised settlements from its land in Gujarat, Live Law reported.

The court observed that encroachments on public land has been a “sad story” in the country over the last 75 years.

“The time has come for the corporations to take the responsibility of removing the encroachment,” it said. The court added that ultimately, it is the money of taxpayers “which will go down the drain”.

The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by a group representing slum dwellers.

The petitioners’ lawyer, Colin Gonsalves, told the court that they had been living on the Railways’ land for 60 years, NDTV reported. Now, they have been asked to vacate the land without any notice or rehabilitation because a new railway line has to be built between Surat and Jalgaon, the lawyer added.

The slum dwellers said in their petition to the court that their situation would worsen if they were evicted in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, NDTV reported.

The Supreme Court asked the Railways to give slum dwellers two weeks to vacate the land, The Indian Express reported. It ordered that four weeks should be given to the occupants of settlements that do not need to be vacated immediately.

The court also directed the Railways and the Gujarat government pay Rs 2,000 per month as compensation for each of the demolished huts for a period of six months.

The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar pulled up the Railways for failing to stop encroachments on its property.

The judges added that the Railways has a special police force to secure its properties and there is special law that allows it to take action against encroachers, Live Law reported.

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, representing the Railways, said: “I admit, there are lapses on our part. We have now taken action”.

Nataraj assured the judges that the Railways will take action against encroachers and inform them about it. The judges said they will review the performance of the Railways.

“Your liability is an equal liability along with the State and Corporation,” the court said. “The owner who is incapable of protecting the property should be liable along with the State and Corporation.”