Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation

Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation


The Olga Tellis case is considered to be one of the most important human rights case in India because it evoked the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. The case analysis discusses in detail one of the most debated questions of whether right to livelihood is covered under the ambit of ‘Right to life’ and also whether the respondents i.e. Bombay Municipal Corporation has the authority to evict slum dwellers without issuing any prior notice.


  • The BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) in the year 1981 ordered to evict all the people including slum dwellers who had made the pavements in the city of Bombay as their home. The BMC claimed that the illegal encroachment of the pavements and highways by these slum dwellers caused huge amount of traffic snarls which resulted in the disturbance of smooth functioning of law and order related to traffic.
  • Eventually, the slum dwellers were made to evict forcefully under the orders of the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra and the same eviction was carried out as per the guidelines provided under Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal corporation Act, 1888.
  • A writ petition was filed by the slum dwellers in the High Court of Bombay restraining the implementation of orders by BMC under the directions issued the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
  • The High Court of Bombay passed an ad-interim order upon hearing the petitions filed by the slum dwellers residing on pavements which restricted the BMC from implementing its orders till the year 1981. At first, BMC obeyed the orders of the court but later went about implementing their own orders which resulted in the eviction of the slum dwellers from pavements and were later deported by the State transport to various other places.
  • The petitioners who were not satisfied with the court’s decision filed 2 writ petitions, one each for the slum dwellers and the residents of the Kamraj Nagar Basti which was situated very close to the Western Express Highway in Bombay.
  • Later, the same petition was challenged by the petitioners who claimed that the orders taken by BMC was in violation of Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India in addition to inconsistency of Section 314 of BMC Act with Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Issues involved

1. Whether estoppels can be claimed against the enforcement of fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution?
2. Whether Right to Livelihood is covered under the ambit of Article 21 which states Right to Life?
3. Whether the BMC Act was in violation of the provisions of the Constitution?
4. Whether the people who were residing on pavements can be termed as ‘trespassers’ under the Indian Penal Code, 1860?

Judgement given by the Supreme Court

1. No person irrespective of anything has right to encroach on any public place, pavement, road, highway and expressway.
2. The contention from the petitioner’s side that the slum and pavement dwellers were evicted without giving any notice did not hold much sense in this case. Section 314 of the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary in nature. It is not necessary to issue a notice for the proposed action. It would further delay the eviction as slum dwellers could delay the eviction under the garb of notice.
3. The court also gave a verdict that those residents who were registered for an alternate rehabilitation program in 1976 should be given separate place for residents.
4. Slum existing for more than 20 years should not be removed unless the land is required for public purposes and in his case, alternative sites should be provided to homeless people.
5. High priority should be given to resettlement.


The Right to life as well as Right to personal liberty provided under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is said to be one of the most important provision consisting of a wide range of powers under it making it the heart of the Indian Constitution. The SC has mentioned in a number of landmark judgments that ‘life’ means more than mere existence and the Right to life includes the right to live a happy and healthy life by enjoying all the faculties of a human body. Also, in another ground-breaking judgement given by SC in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Court held that ‘right to life includes right to live with dignity’.

The Supreme Court gave a wider interpretation to Article 21 in this case such that the right to life also made right to livelihood a part of it. It was stated by Justice Chandrachud that right to livelihood is an important aspect of right to life because no individual can be denied the means to live i.e. means of livelihood.

If the right to livelihood was not covered under the ambit of right to life under Article 21, one of the easiest methods of depriving an individual’s right to life is by stripping him of his means to livelihood to the point of abrogation and the court justified the same by analyzing the available statistical data which portrayed that all the people residing on the pavements chose to do so which is close to their workplace and evicting them from those pavements meant that they would lost their livelihood as well. This decision taken by the court was based on implied concepts such as reliance and welfare state which in turn was based on Directive Principles of State Policy under the Indian Constitution.

In addition to Article 21, this case incorporated the Benthamite philosophy of Hedonist utilitarianism. This principle given by Bentham states that out of all the available options, the best option to be chosen is the one which provides the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. The provisions under Section 314 of the BMC Act laid down a lot restrictions and prohibitions with respect to housing of slum dwellers on pavements.

So, Justice Chandrachud applied Bentham’s utilitarism principle in this case and held that the main aim of the lawmaker is to make the decisions which are favorable to a large number of people. In totality, the Apex Court tried to the best of its ability to create a balanced decision by considering both the happiness of the slum dwellers as well as the implementation of the particular legislation and held that the justice can be done only by redressing to the needs of the slum dwellers.


The court’s decision in this case was a very balanced and an appropriate one considering the arguments from both the parties. It was held that the “Right to Life is crucial but not an exclusive right”. It also held that no individual has any right to encroach any public place.


1. Olga Tellis and Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Ors , 1985 SCC (3) 545
2. Kharak Singh v. State of UP, 1964 SCR (1) 332
3. Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, 1980 SCR (2) 557
4. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 SCR (2) 621

Author: Haritha Malepati,
3rd year BBA LLB, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

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