Delhi HC halts demolition drive at Sarai Kale Khan slum cluster

Residents cite poor socioeconomic status in petition; authorities say the slum dwellers are not eligible for rehabilitation

July 04, 2022 01:42 am | Updated 01:42 am IST - New Delhi

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court | Photo Credit: File Photo

The Delhi High Court has ordered the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to put on hold the demolition drive at Gyaspur Basti in Sarai Kale Khan here, which has 100 slums with over 460 residents, till further orders.

A Vacation Bench of Justice Neena Bansal Krishna noted that the documents submitted by the jhuggi (slum) dwellers showed that they are occupying the premises since 1995.

“Considering the long possession of the parties and their assertions that it is a jhuggi cluster having more than 100 jhuggis, the respondent (DDA) is directed to maintain status quo till July 11, 2022,” Justice Krishna ordered.

‘Illegal demolition’

The jhuggi dwellers contended that according to the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is required to conduct a survey and plan a rehabilitation programme before carrying out the demolition. “None of the procedures have been followed,” the jhuggi dwellers said, adding that the “arbitrary and illegal” demolition by the DDA would not only render them homeless but also jobless.

On June 27, the DDA had carried out an anti-encroachment drive on a stretch of the Yamuna floodplains in Sarai Kale Khan. Its officials said the exercise was carried out in pursuance of the guidelines of the National Green Tribunal.

Gyanpur Basti’s residents told the High Court that the demolition was partial and several jhuggis are still intact.

Poor socioeconomic status

The petitioners submitted that the ‘Basti’ was established about forty years ago and they have residence proofs dating to 1995. Most of the residents migrated to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh and 95% of the residents belong to Scheduled Caste, “Dhobi caste”or other backward classes, the jhuggi dwellers said.

The plea added that the inhabitants are daily wagers living below the poverty line and are primarily engaged in unskilled or semi-skilled informal labour. Even as they are vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are now worried about the possibility of illegal eviction and demolition of their houses.

The DDA vehemently argued that what has been termed as jhuggi clusters, are instead sporadic jhuggis that have come up in the area. “They do not qualify as a Basti or cluster and therefore, the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015 is not applicable,” the DDA said.

The DDA submitted that the demolition drive is being carried out pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal. Previously, the DDA has carried out a series of demolition drives in the Yamuna floodplains, removing several illegal structures in the process.

The DUSIB also submitted that the area in respect of which the petition has been filed does not qualify as clusters/basti and is not covered under the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board Act, 2010. “The petitioners being encroachers are not entitled to any protection,” DUSIB said.

‘Check eligibility for rehabilitation’

Justice Krishna relied on various judgments of the court to note that the agencies must first determine if the dwellers are eligible for rehabilitation in terms of the extant law and policy before forced eviction.

“Forced eviction of jhuggi dwellers, unannounced, in co-ordination with the other agencies and without compliance of the requisite procedures, would be contrary to law,” Justice Krishna remarked.

The High Court further asked the DUSIB to consider providing temporary protection in a night shelter nearest to the jhuggi area to two applicants who have been rendered homeless as their jhuggis were demolished, especially because of the impending monsoon. It posted the case for further hearing on July 11.

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