What is the issue?
As per a senior government official, there are 750 slum clusters in Delhi, of which around 52 prominent ones are located close to railway tracks. The Supreme Court, on 31st August 2020, passed an Order in connection with the piling up of the waste along the railway tracks, wherein the Court has ordered for the removal of 48000 clusters that are located along the 70 km route length of the track. The Northern Railway, alongside the Government of Delhi, has started the work of identifying the slums along railway tracks and the ones lying within 15 meters of the tracks will be removed.
The pandemic and strict months-long lockdown have left millions of people jobless in our country, exacerbating the poor’s access to food, healthcare, and housing. These slum dwellers have been struggling to make ends meet; most of them are going about looking for jobs on an empty stomach. At this time, such an Order by the Court has left them distressed.
Rights of the Slum Dwellers
While we acknowledge the environmental concerns arising out of the poor waste management around railway tracks, Article 48A of the Indian Constitution puts the onus on the State to maintain and improve the environment. As an extension of this principle, it is the duty of the government alone to ensure the maintenance of the railway tracks, however, this duty cannot be fulfilled in the abrogation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. The goals set out in Part IV of the Constitution therefore must be achieved without the abrogation of the means provided for by Part III (Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors versus Union of India & Others).
The slum dwellers’ right to life under Article 21, which is inclusive of their right to housing and dignity, guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India stands violated in the event of an unfair and arbitrary eviction procedure in the absence of a comprehensive eviction and rehabilitation plan. Similarly, the government’s decision to demolish the slums will also be violative of Articles 38, 39(a) & 41 of Part IV of the Indian Constitution, and therefore in complete violation of the principles of natural justice.
We believe that keeping in line with this fact, the government is duty-bound to ensure that the action of demolition is not violative of the fundamental, constitutional, and human rights of the residents. Moreover, owing to the COVID-19 crisis, carrying out the eviction procedure in the stipulated period can prove to be an absolute threat to the fundamental and human rights of the slum dwellers.
What are we doing in this regard?
We have written a letter elucidating our concerns to the Chief Minister of Delhi, the Under Secretary of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, the Chief Executive Officer of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, the Secretary-General Chief Executive Officer, National Human Rights Commission and the Commissioner, South Delhi Municipal Corporation.
We have stated in the letter, how the Order does not make any reference to the rehousing or rehabilitation of the residents of the slums so identified and demolished. We have highlighted the importance of government action in this regard, while supporting our arguments, and building our case with important judgments, like Olga Tellis & Others versus Municipal Corporation of Mumbai & Others, Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors versus Union of India & Others, Ajay Maken & Others versus Union of India & Others, Saloni Singh & Another versus Union of India & Others and Sudama Singh & Others versus Gov. of Delhi, amongst others.
At a time when they are starving themselves to make ends meet, it is incomprehensible that they will be expected to vacate their place of residence which also serves as a point closest to their sources of livelihood. Given the past anomalies of forced eviction without a well laid out plan of action at the hands of the authorities, the three-month timeline for the present task of eviction seems not only unjust but an invitation to a humanitarian disaster, with the COVID-19 unrelenting on its impact on the urban poor and the marginalized.
We have elaborated on the following concerns:
- Basis of identification of slums to be removed
- Relocation and Rehabilitation of the Residents
- Compensation for the aggrieved residents
- Right to Safe Shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic
- Post-Eviction COVID -19 Testing
We will follow up with the relevant stakeholders and authorities and keep updating this page with pertinent information. We will defend the rights of these disadvantaged communities by taking up specific aspects of this issue and help develop an inclusive law and policy narrative, which is in favor of the aggrieved population, to protect their fundamental and legal rights.
- The CM Office took cognisance of the issue, and the government of Delhi gave out statements in support of the slum dwellers.
- In a temporary relief for the Slum Dwellers, the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court that no one will be evicted from the slum dwellings for now as the Central government will take a decision in this regard in consultation with the Railways, the Delhi government led by the Aam Aadmi Party and the Urban Development Ministry.
- The Supreme Court took note of the Centre’s assurance and said that no coercive action be taken against these slum dwellers for four weeks. The Court then adjourned the matter for four weeks.
- In a Press Release, the Northern Railways Board said that they will follow the protocol for rehabilitation as formulated and enforced by the Delhi High Court, Division Bench in Ajay Maken v UOI, 2019.
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- Letter to Stakeholders by LQF dated 9th September, 2020
- Supreme Court’s Order dated 31st August 2020
- Delhi Slum & J.J. Rehabilitation & Relocation Policy, 2015
- UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement
- United Nations’ Human Rights Special Procedures’ COVID-19 Guidance Note on Prohibition of Evictions
- Supreme Court’s Order Dated 14th September 2020
- Northern Railways Press Release Dated 14th September 2020