The Case Analysis: Olga Tellis & Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors., (1985) emphasises a pivotal legal decision in India.

The Case Analysis: Olga Tellis & Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors., (1985) emphasises a pivotal legal decision in India that underscores the significance of the right to livelihood and housing for pavement dwellers.

Case Title: Olga Tellis & Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors.

Court: Supreme Court of India

Citation: 1985 SCC (3) 545

Bench: Y.V. Chandrachud (CJI), O. Chinnappa Reddy (J), S. Murtaza Fazal Ali (J), V.D. Tulzapurkar and A. Varadaraja (J)

Date of Judgment: 10/07/1985


The State of Maharashtra & the Bombay Municipal Corporation ordered all residents in Bombay’s slums and pavements to evacuate in 1981. People and their families had constructed spontaneous dwellings on the streets and pathways for a variety of economic reasons. These buildings, which were typically constructed from temporary items such as polythene sheets, hardwood, or bent iron, were declared illegal by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). As a result, Mr A. R. Antulay, the then-Chief Minister of Maharashtra, issued an order on July 13 to evict slum and footpath dwellers from Bombay and transfer them to their original land.

According to the BMC, these pavement dwellings caused a variety of issues, including the obstruction of public places, traffic congestion, and health and environmental issues. According to the corporation, these structures were unsanitary and unsafe, and their demolition was required to protect the safety and health of the public. The unlicensed dwellings were to be demolished as part of the planned eviction, leaving the street dwellers with no other means of accommodation or shelter.

A writ petition was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution by PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties) and other journalists on behalf of pavement dwellers. This Petition contested the eviction of people who live on the sidewalks. The petitioners argued that Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Indian Constitution were violated by the police order issued under Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888.

Facts of the Case

1. In the case Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, the state of Maharashtra and the BMC resolved to expel squatters and pavement dwellers from Bombay in 1981.

2. Accordingly, on July 13, the then Government of Maharashtra, Mr. A. R. Antulay, gave the order to evict slum and pavement residents from Bombay and deport them to their home country.

3. According to Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act 1888, the eviction was to take place.

4. They filed a writ case in the High Court of Bombay seeking an order of injunction.

5. A temporary interim injunction was obtained by the High Court of Bombay, and it will be in effect until July 21, 1981. The respondents concurred that the huts won't be taken down till October 15, 1981. In violation of the agreement, petitioners were packed into the State Transport buses on July 23, 1981, and expelled from Bombay.

6. The Petitioner objected to the respondent's action because it contravened Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

7. They also asked for an affirmation that Sections 312, 313 and 314 of the BMCA of 1888 infringe the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Legal Provisions

We should first review all of the relevant laws in this case before we begin to analyse it:

Constitution of India

Article 14: It guarantees all people the right to equality before the law & equal protection under the law. It declares that the nation shall not deny anyone equality before the law or the same protection under the law on Indian territory. This Article serves as the foundation for the Indian legal system’s notion of equality and non-discrimination.

Article 19: Concerns the right to free speech and expression. It provides all citizens with the liberty to free expression, subject to some reasonable limitations.

Article 21: This Article of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty.

Article 32: The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.

Article 39: Article 39 of the Indian Constitution is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, which establishes principles for the state to direct its policy towards securing certain principles of social and economic justice.

Indian Penal Code

Section 441: Whoever gets into or stays on property in the ownership of someone else with the intent to perform an offence or to persecute, insult, or frustrate anyone who is in ownership of that property, or who has lawfully come into or stays on that property with the intent to intimidate, insult, or bother the other person, is deemed to have committed “criminal trespass.”

Bombay Municipal Corporation Act (BMCA),1888

Sections 312: Prohibition of constructions or fixtures that obstruct streets. Except with the Commissioner’s permission under Sections 310 or 317, no person shall erect or place any wall, fence, rail, post, step, booth, or other structure or fixture in or upon any street, or upon or over any open channel, drain, well, or tank in any street, to form a barrier to, or an encroachment on, or an extension over, or to possess, any area of a said street, channel, drain, well, or tank. Nothing in this provision shall be construed to relate to any construction or object to which Section 322 clause (c) applies.

Section 313(1): It prohibits installing or making certain items on the street without permission.

Section 313(A): This section specifies the requirement for a license to sell in Public Places.

Section 314: Deals with the power to remove anything erected, posted, or hawked in violation of Sections 312, 313, or 313A without notice.

Issues Raised

The following were the issues that the Hon'ble Supreme Court took into consideration:

  1. Issue of Fundamental Rights Waiver or Estoppel against Fundamental Rights
  2. Article 21 and Right to Life
  3. Constitutionality of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act of 1888's provisions
  4. Status of sidewalk inhabitants as "trespassers" in the IPC

Arguments from Both of the sides


The Petitioner stated that the "right to life" protected by Article 21 encompassed the right to have some sort of support and added that if he had to move out of his slums, they would lose that right including its pavements, which would be a violation of these rights. Consequently, it is unconstitutional

The petitioner further outlined that Section 314 within the BMC, 1888 Act for removing encroachment from the pavement was unjust because the commissioner of the municipality took such a big decision even without prior information or notice.


Respondents contended that regulating the population and even a few activities in some areas was primarily needed for the welfare of the state and ultimately for the public. Moreover, they likely argued that restricting certain activities, such as pavement dwelling or street vending, was required for public safety and also to prevent congestion. Public spaces were required to be looked at by the government only.


The Court determined that the means of sustenance were part of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The State was required to ensure that its citizens had sufficient means of survival including the right to work.

The Court concluded that there could be no estoppel claims against Fundamental Rights. Pavement occupants hold the right to income generation, which is a subset of the Right to Life. The Court also advocated alternative resettlement. The Court construed that implementation of Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act 1888 should be humane and considerate towards the marginalized.

Furthermore, the Court stated that because the petitioners were forced to reside in the slums due to involuntary activities, there was no malafide purpose and hence no criminal trespass. The Principles established by this judgment have been largely affirmed in numerous cases resulting in evictions without any notice.


Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, (1985) emphasized the right of livelihood and housing of those living in slums. It protected the people against the arbitrary decision of the government.

The apex court highlighted the importance of the opportunity to be heard. The Court also observed that since the petitioners were compelled to live in the slums due to circumstances beyond their control, there was no criminal intent or trespass.

Click Here to Read the Official Judgment

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Laiba Tahreem

Laiba Tahreem

A final year humanities student of Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi

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