BBMP eviction drive abdicates its constitutional obligations

Overnight at least 2,000 families have been rendered homeless by the BBMP's eviction drive in Ejipura, a shantytown spread across 15 acres and 22 guntas in Bangalore’s upmarket Koramangala. The civic authority has also declared that those living near the demolished remains of the settlement will be moved out and the plot fenced by Tuesday.

By refusing to put in place any alternative arrangements, even temporary, for the evicted people, critics argue that the State has abdicated its responsibility and constitutional obligation to guarantee the 'Right to shelter' and 'Right to life and livelihood' to its citizens.

This even as the BBMP’s track record in providing night shelters for the homeless, under the directions of the Supreme Court, is among the worst in the country: a mere 10 of the stipulated 180 shelters (capacity of 50 each) have been built. In a single sweep, the civic body has added many thousands to the number of urban homeless. Government estimates of the number of homeless persons in the city at around 2,500 is already at huge variance with surveys that peg it at 10,000 to 15,000.

The BBMP’s justification, as presented in court, is a promise to provide interim relief of Rs. 30,000 to 1,512 original allottees and houses in a portion of the land, which will also house a mall developed by Maverick Holdings and Investment Pvt. Ltd. However, an overwhelming majority of the evicted residents do not make it to this allottee list as most of them are tenants living in tin-roofed, one-room tenements for decades now. Residents point out that the BBMP is aware of this as even when the original EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) Quarters caved in in 2003, many of those injured, were tenants. Moreover, the BBMP's own revenue survey in January 2005 found that out of 1,512 houses, 1,101 were occupied by tenants. In 2006, the BBMP had issued guritina cheetis/hakku patras (rights/identification certificates) to the residents.

Council resolution

Earlier in 2005, the BBMP passed a resolution to provide housing on the same land for all residents, including those it now dismisses as “illegal occupants” or “squatters”. This resolution has not been reversed till date, said Sunil Yadav, the lawyer who, two months ago, filed a writ appeal in the High Court on behalf of 143 residents of the EWS quarters.

“The BBMP conveniently left out this resolution when presenting the case, and has therefore misrepresented the situation before the Court,” said Mr. Yadav. He added that the current drive was undertaken in haste because the BBMP feared a stay in the case. A notice has already been issued to the BBMP, Maverick Holdings and the original allottees on this matter.

The decision to go ahead with eviction also violates the BBMP’s own charter. Listed among the discretionary functions of the municipal corporation in the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act clauses are both “provision of shelter to destitute or homeless” and “building and maintenance of dwelling for poor and working classes”. BBMP's decision to simply oust thousands from their homes, and lives and livelihoods, disregards this.

Contradicts policy

Such drives, besides lacking a humane approach, are also contradictory to national policies on slums and displacement, points out Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor implementation of its interim orders in the Right to Shelter case. "The Rajiv Awaz Yojana, for instance, lays down principles that mandate a due process for resettlement and that those displaced (including residents without ownership rights) must be part of the redevelopment plans in order to protect their livelihoods", he said. “The state’s duty is obviously to the people living there. People live in slums because the state has failed in providing them affordable housing options. Therefore, the state must treat these people with compassion.”

Over the years, in several cases the Supreme Court has ruled that the state must make alternative housing arrangements before such evictions, lawyers point out. But, in this case, the BBMP's resettlement plans -- which included two proposed sites in Anekal and Sarjapur, both on the city's outskirts -- have not come through. In fact, residents told The Hindu that last year they were taken on a recce of one site in Anekal, outside Bangalore, which turned out to be a privately-owned site.

Calling for a “humanist response”, PUCL’s Y.J. Rajendra said: “BBMP must address the question of the future of hundreds of families, belonging to the lowest strata of society, who are now homeless,” What law dictates that these people live out in the cold, he asked at a press conference here.

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2022 5:59:49 pm |