Smothering the housing rights of the urban poor
A Court order, on Delhi’s slum dwellings, threatens to undo the promise of the right to housing offered in earlier verdicts
- The Supreme Court of India on August 31 orderedthe removal of about 48,000 slum dwellings situated along the railway tracks in Delhi.
- A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, in one of his last orders before his retirement, directed State authorities to remove thejhuggi jhopri clusters in the railway safety zone within a period of three months.
- The order also stated that no Court shall grant any stay with respect to removal of the encroachments and in case any such interim order is granted, that shall not be effective.
- Earlier the National Green Tribunal had constituted a special task force for the removal of encroachments from railway property.
- The Court ordered that these “encroachments “should be removed within three months and “no interference, political or otherwise, should be there.”
A flawed order
- The Court has ignored principles of natural justice, judicial precedents on the right to shelter, and state policies governing evictions.
- The order violates principles of natural justice and due process since it decided on the removal of jhuggi jhopriswithout hearing the affected party, the jhuggi
- The Court made an unconvincing connection between the piling of garbage and the presence of slums and gave an eviction order without giving the residents a fair hearing.
- The order was passed in the long-running case, C. Mehta vs. Union of India & Ors., regarding pollution in Delhi and was in response to a report by the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority for the National Capital Region on the piling up of garbage along railway tracks.
- Neither the case nor the report concerned itself with the legality of informal settlements.
- The Court ignored its long-standing jurisprudence on the right to livelihood and shelter upheld in various judgments.
- A five-judge Bench of the SC in Olga Tellis & Ors vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors. (1985) held that the right to lifealso includes the “right to livelihood” and that no eviction shall take place without notice and hearing those affected.
- In Chameli Singh vs. State of U.P. (1995), the SC recognised the “right to shelter” as a component of the right to life under Article 21 and freedom of movement under Article 19(1)(e).
- The Court also failed to consider the policies and case laws on slum eviction and rehabilitation in Delhi.
- In Sudama Singh & Others vs Government of Delhi & Anr. (2010), the Delhi High Court held that prior to any eviction, a survey must be conducted and those evicted should have a right to meaningful engagement with the relocation plans.
- The procedure laid down in this judgment formed the basis for the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015.
- In Ajay Maken & Ors. vs Union of India & Ors. (2019), a case concerning the demolition of Shakur Basti on railway land, the Delhi HC invoked the idea of the “Right to the City” to uphold the housing rights of slum dwellers.
Evictions amid pandemic
- The Supreme Court order that threatens to leave lakhs of people homeless amid a pandemic is callous and unconscionable.
- A recent report of the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) shows that over 20,000 people were displaced in 45 incidents of forced evictions when India was under lockdown.
- Over the last three years, over five lakh people have been evicted, most often for various “city beautification” projects.
- Under the premise of environmental protection, the courts have played an active role in such demolition drives.
- The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing has called on member-states to declare an end to forced evictions.
- In certain cases, PIL jurisprudence takes a dangerous turn whereby its procedural relaxations are used to deny principles of natural justice to the most marginalised groups.
- The promise of the right to housing is now being undone by an order that pre-empts other courts from giving orders to stop the eviction.
- These residents would now need to employ a combination of political and legal strategies to protect their housing rights and ensure that no eviction or rehabilitation is conducted without their prior informed consent