In the year 2017, data collected by Housing and Land Rights Network India (HLRN) reveals that government authorities, at both the central and state levels, demolished over 53,700 homes, thereby forcefully evicting, at a minimum, 260,000 (2.6 lakh) people across urban and rural India.
The total number of persons affected has been calculated by multiplying the number of homes demolished by the average household size according to the Census (4.8). However, many demolished houses had more than one family, and most of the affected families have more than five persons. The real number of people displaced is therefore likely to be much higher.
At a press conference held in Delhi on February 23rd, evicted persons from different sites as well as human rights advocates and independent experts highlighted critical issues related to evictions and displacement in the country. At the event, the panellists also released a study by HLRN titled ‘Forced Evictions in India in 2017: An Alarming National Crisis.’
Findings from HLRN’s study on forced evictions show that incidents occurred in large metropolitan cities (Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai), as well as in other Tier I cities (for example, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Surat, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Guwahati).
Reasons for eviction
After analysing the available data on 213 reported cases of forced eviction in the year 2017, HLRN has identified four broad categories for which individuals and communities were forcibly removed and displaced from their homes and habitats:
1) ‘City beautification’ projects, ‘slum-clearance’ drives, and interventions aimed at creating ‘slum-free’ and ‘smart cities’ [46 per cent of recorded evictions];
2) Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects [25 per cent of recorded evictions];
3) Environmental conservation and wildlife and forest protection [14 per cent of recorded evictions];
4) Disaster management efforts [eight per cent of recorded evictions]
HLRN finds that the highest percentage of evictions (affecting over 122,000 people) were carried out for ‘slum clearance’ drives, ‘slum-free city’ schemes, ‘city beautification,’ and ‘smart city’ projects.
The notion that ‘beautification’ implies removing the poor from cities reflects an alarming prejudice and discrimination against the country’s most marginalized populations. In many cities, homes of the urban poor continue to be considered as ‘illegal encroachments’ and are demolished without any consideration that people have been living in those areas for decades, sometimes 40–50 years, and possess documents such as election and ration cards that validate their legality and proof of residence.
In Navi Mumbai, ‘slum clearance’ drives rendered over 3,300 families homeless between January and October 2017.
Between August and November 2017, different government agencies in Delhi, including the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Central Public Works Department forcefully evicted over 1,500 homeless people from under flyovers in Delhi, under the pretext of flyover ‘beautification.’
Mega events also resulted in evictions in 2017. In order to ‘beautify’ areas for the Federation of International Football Associations’ (FIFA) Under-17 World Cup tournament in October 2017, the Government of West Bengal demolished 88 low-income homes and evicted 5,000 street vendors and 18,000 rickshaw-pullers in Kolkata and Salt Lake City, resulting in loss of their income and livelihoods. The state government also evicted 1,200 families for the Kolkata Book Fair.
Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects, including road/highway expansion, canal widening, and metro projects displaced over 77,000 people in 2017.
While several evictions are justified by the state for ‘public purpose,’ the term is ill-defined, even in law, and continues to be misused. HLRN’s findings reveal the ironic situation of at least 6,900 homes being destroyed for housing schemes in Hyderabad, Indore, and Vadodara.
Evictions were also executed under the guise of ‘disaster management.’ In response to a 2015 order (W.P. No. 39234/2015) of the Madras High Court to take “expeditious steps for early removal of encroachments by construction of alternative tenements,” the Government of Tamil Nadu evicted over 4,784 families in Chennai between September and December 2017. The state, however, has only targeted homes of the urban poor and left commercial establishments along water bodies untouched.
Though the Supreme Court of India and several state High Courts have, in numerous judgments, upheld the right to housing/shelter as an inalienable component of the fundamental right to life, in 2017, court orders and their interpretation by state authorities were responsible for 17 per cent of the total evictions recorded by HLRN.
For a complete list of evictions by city and the reasons cited for such action, check the Annexure to HLRN Press Release.
Absence of due process
In almost all cases known to HLRN, authorities did not adhere to due process or human rights standards. In most instances, affected communities were not provided any notice or adequate time to remove their belongings from their homes.
Central government authorities carried out several evictions in Delhi during the winter, rendering families homeless and vulnerable to the bitter cold and severe pollution. In Pul Mithai, bulldozers reached the settlement at 4 a.m. and commenced demolition at 6 a.m., when people were still asleep in their homes.
In Chennai, authorities evicted families before and during school examinations and also during the rainy season.
Even though a Maharashtra government resolution prohibits evictions during the monsoons, Baltu Bai Nagar in Navi Mumbai was demolished on 7 June 2017, leaving people out in the rain.
Inadequate resettlement efforts
Several state governments use the exclusionary tool of ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine whether an evicted family should be rehabilitated or not. Even when families have lived for many years at a site, if they fail to meet the state’s documentation requirements or happen to be omitted from state-conducted surveys, they are denied any form of relief or resettlement, despite losing their homes, which are generally built incrementally and with hard-earned savings.
Where resettlement has been provided for ‘eligible’ families, including by the Governments of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Delhi, it is in inadequate sites located on the outskirts of cities (for instance, Baprola in Delhi, and Perumbakkam, Navalur, and Gudapakkam in Chennai).
Reports highlight the deteriorating health of people moved from along Mumbai’s Tansa pipeline to the polluted resettlement site of Mahul.
Rampant violation of human rights
The processes followed before, during and after evictions have resulted in the violation of multiple human rights of affected persons, including their human rights to life, adequate housing, land, work/livelihood, health, food, water, sanitation, education, security of the person and home, information, participation, and freedom of movement and residence.
In Kathputli Colony of Delhi, residents, activists, and a journalist were beaten up during evictions. In Chennai and Delhi, deaths resulting from evictions have also been reported.
Making our cities more humane
In view of the severity and magnitude of the crisis and the fact that these incidents have resulted in gross human rights violations, HLRN proposes the following recommendations to the central and state governments:
1) Immediately recognize and uphold the human right to adequate housing of all, which includes security of tenure and the right to freedom from forced evictions. Adopt UN standards for ‘adequate housing’ in all new housing, in situ (on site) upgrading, and redevelopment projects.
2) Take immediate measures toward restitution of human rights of affected persons by providing adequate rehabilitation and compensation; restoring homes, livelihoods, basic services, and education; and enabling return to original sites of residence, where possible.
3) Investigate incidents of forced eviction and take punitive action against those found guilty of violating the law and human rights.
4) Invest adequately in low-cost housing, with a focus on social rental housing. Prioritize participatory and human rights-based in situ upgrading of housing.
5) Ensure that evicted, displaced, and homeless/landless families are considered for priority housing under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana/Housing for All–2022.
6) Ensure that the free and prior informed consent of all affected persons is taken before any eviction/relocation/redevelopment/upgrading project is finalized.
7) Carry out a human rights-based ‘eviction impact assessment,’ consistent with national and international law, prior to the implementation of any project.
8) Incorporate a human rights and social justice approach for the implementation of all schemes related to housing, including PMAY, Smart Cities Mission, and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, and prevent evictions and violations of human rights.
9) Implement laws and court judgments upholding the right to housing, and incorporate international guidelines, including the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, into national and state laws and policies.
10) Implement recommendations of all UN human rights bodies, including those made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in her mission to India report, particularly the recommendation for a moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions of homes in India.
11) Implement recommendations made to India during its third Universal Periodic Review, especially the three recommendations related to providing adequate housing for all.
[This article is an abridged version of a detailed Press Release from the Housing and Land Rights Network India (HLRN); the chosen text has been republished with minimal edits. The complete release and data annexure can be read here]