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Right to the city

An 'illegal' house being broken down. Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty  

It is an irony of sorts that the ever-expanding city has no space for its makers. Bulldozers razing to the ground the squalid settlements of slum-dwellers, hailed as squatters or encroachers aren’t a rare sight in the Capital today.

In pursuance of the struggle to stall the processes of eviction, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), Delhi, has published a handbook in Hindi, English and Tamil titled, “What to do in case of a forced eviction”. The handbook, released by men and women who have faced forced eviction or are on the verge of it, elaborates upon the right to adequate housing and is a step towards educating the slum-dwellers about their rights. Says Shivani Chaudhry, Associate Director, HLRN, “Even though forced evictions have been recognized internationally as a gross violation of human rights, the Delhi government continues to systematically evict the urban poor with complete impunity”.

Prabhu Dayal, a resident of Baljeet Nagar said that when he was forcefully evicted in 2011, neither was he equipped with the knowledge of what to do nor did he know his rights. People like him will be empowered by the handbook which details pre-eviction and post-eviction measures and also throws light on what one’s rights are during the time when such an action is taken. It also contains the contact details of government agencies and officials which could come handy in these cases.

In the year 2000, the Apex court likened the provision of alternate shelter for evicted slum-dwellers to rewarding pickpockets in the controversial judgment in the case of Almitra Patel v. Union of India. Much of the state action today is a reinforcement of the Almitra holding, criminalizing their settlements.

The police often hound the ramshackle hutments, declaring them illegal and then letting the people raise yet another wall or a door or a window after pocketing a generous amount of hush money. “Their rates are fixed. Rs.4000 for a window, 7000 for a door, 20,000 for a toilet and 70-80,000 for a house,” says Abdul Shakeel, who works with the slum-dwellers in their crusade against forced land acquisition.

“Do you see that man there?” he continues, pointing at a middle aged man. “The cops asked him for Rs.4000 because he wanted to raise a window. After he parted with the money, they came again the next day and asked for more threatening to bring down the house. When his son intervened, they beat him black-and-blue.”

Even if a settlement is declared illegal or one that will be potentially acquired, there is a protocol to be followed. Serving a pre-eviction notice is one. This, however, is never done, the sufferers of this plight say unanimously. Bulldozers, with about 2400 police personnel proceeded to bring the hutments down in Baljeet Nagar, one morning when people had merely begun with their daily chores.

Rehabilitation and resettlement of the evicted also suffers. When several writ petitions sought the relocation of the displaced populations of various slum-clusters in Delhi, the Delhi High Court, in 2010, ruled that the relocation had to be a meaningful exercise consistent with the rights to life, livelihood and dignity of the jhuggi dwellers. The implementation, as usual, is a far cry. Relocation, if it happens, is at sites, invariably 30-40 kms away from a city centre. These are places like Narela and Bawana which lack basic amenities such as drinking and bathing water, sanitation, access to affordable public transport, schools and healthcare centres. As the relocation sites are in far-flung areas, their employment suffers a set-back and so does children’s education.

HLRN plans to launch a task-force consisting of lawyers, media-persons, activists and others who would assist those afflicted by forced evictions and help to get stay orders for those on the brink of it.

In the garb of eliminating slums and beautifying the city, the State agencies, in fact, have ended up creating more slums, only this time it is away from the gaze of the city dwellers.


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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 3:47:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/right-to-the-city/article5022294.ece

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