01, Mar 2018 | Sushmita
As the year 2017 came to an end and night temperatures dropped below 10 degrees in cities like Delhi, a large section of India’s poor found themselves without a roof above their heads. An extremely vulnerable state to be in, if one does not have the protection of a shelter, a home. Right to adequate housing has been considered synonymous with the right to life itself. As per various international conventions, it is both, a fundamental right of an Indian citizen and a basic human right of a citizen of the world. Yet we see an increase in abrupt and unsystematic ‘development’ ideas which effectively fail to address this structural problem. A report by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) released recently, has highlighted the flouting of due process by government authorities when it comes to evictions and demolitions.
In fact, a lot of plans launched by the Government, like the recent ‘Smart Cities’ mission, are carrying out evictions and demolitions in an aggressive manner, unparalleled in the history of any other state that claims to be a democracy. In the past year alone, large and small cities across India have seen inhumane demolition drives and forced evictions, undertaken at large scale impacting ‘life and limb’ as well as livelihood of people.
A total of 213 cases of forced evictions were documented by HLRN in 2017 which translated into one eviction every 41 hours. Most of these evictions took place on account of city ‘beautification’ projects, mega events, and interventions aimed at creating ‘slum-free’ and ‘smart cities’. Other reasons include infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects, wildlife protection, environmental conservation, and forest protection, as well as disaster management efforts. Highlighting the grim situation, the report said that the state demolished approximately 53,700 houses in the year 2017 which means at least 147 homes were destroyed every day or six homes every hour!
As per HRLN’s report a lot of these evictions did not follow the due procedure set by National and International standards
The HLRN report stated that in all the cases that it investigated, the authorities responsible for the evictions and demolition of homes, did not adhere to due process or human rights standards and laws. There was no notice or adequate time frame provided to remove their belongings. It stated that the documented eviction and demolition drives not only destroyed housing, but also cash savings and personal belongings of the residents, including vital documents, jewellery, and school books and uniforms. More shockingly, it alleged that in many cases, the authorities did not have any legal basis for the eviction, nor did they provide a justifiable reason to people before forcing them out of their homes and razing them to the ground.
For example, a demolition drive in Mumbai’s Garib Nagar in Bandra (East) ended up destroying more than 350 buildings and the displacing over 1000 families. Despite a notice by the state government to give prior intimation of at least 48 hours, it was not respected and the demolition occurred before the time period. In the commotion that ensued, a major fire broke out on October 26, 2017 in which many houses were burnt.
Similarly, defying Delhi government’s call to stall evictions in the winter months, Central government authorities were responsible for carrying out a lot of evictions.
A sinister agenda of gentrification
The highest percentage of reported evictions, as many as 99 cases out of the 213, were carried out for ‘slum clearance’ drives, ‘slum-free city’ schemes, ‘city beautification,’ and ‘smart city’ projects. As the central and state governments move towards creating supposed slum free cities, many such drives take place resulting in the destruction of self-built homes of the working poor.
Making a very important point, the report said
The notion of the state that ‘city beautification’ implies removing the poor from cities reflects an alarming prejudice and discrimination against the country’s most marginalized populations.
The politics of evictions is such that homes of the urban poor continue to be considered as ‘illegal encroachments’ and are demolished without considering that people have been living in those areas for long periods of time stretching even to decades, sometimes 40-50 years, and possess documents.
The report also highlights how the notion of public land is greatly misused in India. It said that as the state entrusted with the protection of such land for the people, continues to act against their interests by evicting them randomly. Such evictions are usually driven by the motives of commercialisation of public land for monetary purposes. Citing one such example, it took note of the Public Works Department in Delhi which forcefully evicted over 1500 homeless people from under flyovers in Delhi under the ridiculous pretext of ‘beautifying’ the city’s flyovers.
Ironically, the report noted, that at least 6937 homes were destroyed for housing schemes. Mega events were quoted as another reason for large scale human rights violations. It reported,
India hosted the Federation of International Football Associations’ (FIFA) Under-17 (U-17) World Cup tournament from 6–28 October 2017. In order to ‘beautify’ areas for the event, the Government of West Bengal demolished 88 low-income homes and evicted 5,000 street vendors and 18,000 rickshaw-pullers in Kolkata and Salt Lake City, resulting in loss of their income and livelihoods.
The report draws attention to the fact that a majority of those evicted did not receive resettlement or rehabilitation from the state. After the demolition takes place a large number of people are left on their own. They are either rendered homeless or pushed to more precarious states of living.
The report notes,
Most state governments continue to use the exclusionary tool of ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine whether an evicted family should be rehabilitated or not. Even when families have lived for many years at a site, if they fail to meet the state’s documentation requirements or happen to be omitted from state-conducted surveys, they are denied any form of relief or resettlement despite losing their homes, which are generally built incrementally, over years of hard work and investment. This is directly contributing to a rise in homelessness.
It highlights that these evictions and demolitions contravene the Constitution of India, national laws, policies, and scheme as well as international human rights treaties ratified by India. It also went against central government’s Housing for All-2022 scheme or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). The excrutiatingly slow rate of implementation, coupled with the destruction of housing for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Low Income Groups (LIG), makes a mockery of housing targets set by the state.
The HLRN report has recommended several measures towards the resolution of this problem. Some of these included recognising the human rights to adequate housing of all, which includes security of tenure and the right to freedom from forced evictions, adopting UN standards for ‘adequate housing’ in all new housing, in situ (on site) upgrading, and redevelopment projects and taking immediate measures toward restitution of human rights of affected persons by providing adequate rehabilitation and compensation; restoring homes, livelihoods, basic services, and education; and enabling return to original sites of residence, where possible.