The Rights of Slum Dwellers and The Order of The Supreme Court
Author: VAISHNAVI VATS, BANASTHALI VIDYAPEETH, JAMNALAL BAJAJ SCHOOL OF LEGAL STUDIES
These times of pandemic had been difficult for the whole world but they proved to be the most difficult for those who are the poorest. The Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, on 31 August 2020, has ordered for the removal of thousands of the houses of slum dwellers present alongside the railway tracks, for 140 km in NCT of Delhi, the capital of the country, the Supreme Court was clear in its order that this order will not be restrained because of any political, social intervention, this removal must be done within a period of three months.
The question is can Supreme Court give such an order without providing any rehabilitation to slum dwellers? Will such an order be an infringement of their fundamental rights?
Article 21 is a combination of many fundamental rights, like the right to live with human dignity, right to health, clean drinking water, clean environment, pollution-free air, be informed, privacy, right to shelter, livelihood, last two are the rights which are violated by the Order of Supreme Court, along with this fundamental right this order of Supreme Court has also violated the principles of natural justice.
IGNORANCE OF DECADES-OLD JUDGMENT
The Supreme Court in its 35 years old case: Olga Tellis and Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation and Ors., recognized the right to livelihood as a part of Article 21, the court also held that it is the duty of the authorities to provide slum dwellers with an alternative if their house is to be demolished, and this order clearly violates this precedent at the same time violating the fundamental right of slum dwellers who were residing there for a long period.
The PG Gupta v. State of Gujarat and Ors., case also states that “Right to shelter under Art.-19(1)(g) when read with Art.-19(1)(e) as well as Art.-21 of the constitution of India comprises “the right to residence as well as to settlement” court also stated that it is an essential duty of the state to assign those people who are being evicted a permanent housing accommodation, in the scheme of housing.”
There are many cases at this point where SC has held that right to shelter is a part and parcel of article 21 as well as article 19, like State of Karnataka v. Narasimhamurthy, Ahemdabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, etc.
The surprising thing is that this is not the first time, The HLRN (“Housing and Land Right Network”) has shown in its report of this year that there have been about 45 instances where eviction is performed forcefully in this pandemic, in states like Odisha, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana although High Court of Telangana has ordered the concerned authorities to not perform eviction or demolition of homes in the duration of lockdown, these orders were avoided anyways.
These kinds of evictions are not only a violation of Article 21 but also a violation of International Human Rights. UN Commission on Human Rights has also stated that “the forced eviction practice is a gross violation of Human Rights, and particularly right to adequate houses.”
The report of HLRN stated that there has been forced eviction of more than one lakh people last year, and currently about 15 million people are facing the risk of displacement as well as eviction.
In the case of Sundama Singh and Ors. v. Government of Delhi and Anr., four writ petition filed to provide rehabilitation to the petitioners under article 226 of the Indian Constitution, who were residing in many slum areas in Delhi. The Court observed that “What every often is overlooked is that when a family living in Jhuggi is evicted forcibly, each member of such family loses a bundle of their rights i.e., right to livelihood, right to shelter, right to education, right to health, right to access to civic amenities and public transport and above all of these the important right: the right to live with dignity.”
Further, the court stated that the duty of state before carrying out eviction is:
- To perform a survey of those people who will be facing eviction to determine their eligibility in the schemed of rehabilitation, also
- Such eviction must be performed after consulting each and every person at the risk of eviction in a significant way.
In the case of Ajay Maken v. Union of India, 5,000 slum dwellers’ eviction on the railway land was in question, where the Delhi High Court held that before demolishing the houses of dwellers adequate enumeration was not done. The Court further explained that slum dwellers’ right to rehabilitation and adequate housing can’t be denied in any case and it was also observed by the court that a proper arrangement has to be done by the responsible authorities before effecting any evictions.
ISSUES WITH THE ORDER OF SUPREME COURT
In the gist of the above material there are two major problems with the order of the Supreme Court:
- First of all, the slum dwellers who are ordered to be evacuated were not given a chance of hearing in the matter, and
- Secondly, the order for removal of more than 40 thousand jhuggis was given without proving an alternative accommodation to those dwellers, an act which has been held as violation of slum dwellers fundamental rights in many instances.
- Thirdly, Supreme Court ignored the “Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy” of 2015 (JJ stands for Jhuggi Jhopri), which provides procedure of rehabilitating Jhuggi Jhopri Bastis situated in the safety zones of Railways, this policy provides for a period of 6 months to relocate such bastis, but the Supreme Court in its order provided for 3 months only.
Since the date of order many slum dwellers, the law student has moved to Supreme Court at different instances, in order to seek rehabilitation for them before the demolition is done, and recently on 14th September, Central Government intimidated the Supreme Court that removal of slum dwellers will not be done until and unless Railways after consulting with the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry have a solution within a month.
Apart from this, recently in the month of June 2021, the government of Haryana also decided to demolish over 10,000 Jhuggis jhopris, without providing rehabilitation for the same, the reason behind such demolition is those houses, are coming under the forest areas.
These houses have been there for more than two decades, but this does not explain all the hotels, and apartments situated near the same place, not providing rehabilitation is a state violation of Article 21 as held in the case of Sudama Singh, by the Delhi High Court. If the government of Haryana does not provide for alternate land and facilities to overcome the eviction, this will lead to gross violation of human rights.
The surprising entry of this pandemic has caused an unexpected loss to the whole world, and in this condition order of the Supreme Court proved to be a hanging sword for those slum dwellers who were already suffering from the financial crisis, hence Supreme Court should reconsider its order keeping in mind all the consequences of such order.
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 1995 2 SCC 182
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 1997 11 SCC 121
 W.P.(C) 8904/2009
 2015 7 SCC 1