As Delhi votes this week for the Lok Sabha 2024 election, those affected by demolitions and evictions lack trust in the parties

Housing and Law Rights Network (HLRN) report shows that close to 2.8 lakh people were forcefully evicted in NCT region in 2023 alone

Over 1.5 lakh homes were arbitrarily demolished between 2022 and 2023, a recent report by the Housing and Law Rights Network (HLRN) on forced evictions reveals. [1] This callous destruction of civilian homes has led to the eviction of more than 7.4 lakh people in the country. The report also revealed that number of houses demolished and total people displaced had more than doubled in 2023 compared to 2022. Delhi (NCT), in particular, saw around 2.8 lakh people being evicted in 2023 alone by the various state and central agencies, the highest in the country during the same period.

Explaining the concept of domicide, Fahad Zuberi in his Indian Express article notes that demolition can be “both constructive and destructive”, but domicide, on the other hand, “is the killing of home”. He continues, “A home is a living breathing ecosystem. It is built of memories, snippets of life’s milestones, and social interactions. Home is a promise of safety, a necessity for dignity and a matter of pride. Home is the place for a family to live and build a future, to aspire and dream…to rejoice in achievements and to mourn and grieve in loss…Home is the basis of identity, a requirement for state welfare, and even a qualifier to be counted by the state. Home is a place to exercise rights, to engage with others in privacy and dignity, the last bastion against societal stigma, and the last space where the right to privacy can materialise. Home, therefore, is alive and hence, home is not demolished. Home is killed.”

Such “killing of homes” in Delhi has been going on since long time, but the matter has exacerbated in the last few years, with significant increase in the number of people affected due to eviction drives in the city. In February this year, the Delhi Forest Department carried out demolition drive on the ‘forest land’ in Tughlakabad and Aya Nagar, ThePrint reported. The drive which began on February 27 and continued the next day, demolished around 25-30 houses. The forest department claimed to have recovered 1.5 hectares of forest land from the ‘illegal’ possession. Many of the residents were served the notices in the evening, and the next day in the morning JCBs started bulldozing their houses, some of them were not even present as their houses got demolished. A resident claimed that they have been living here for 15 years with all the legal documents including Aadhar and electricity bill, and questioned what the forest department was doing all these years?

The Times of India reported that the demolitions carried out over the couple of days in Tughlaqabad, Sangam Vihar, Neb Sarai and Ayanagar was in adherence with the direction issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to free the encroached forest lands, following the NGT order in 2015 in the case of Sonya Ghosh v Govt of NCT and Others.

Similarly, on February 28, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) carried out demolition in Khajuri Khas, bulldozing the house of Wakeel Hassan, the famous rat-hole miner who along with his team of fellow rathole miners had rescued the trapped labourers from the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand in 2023. The family of Hassan allege that he was targeted because of his Muslim identity. As per the Indian Express report, Shri Ram Colony where Hassan lived featured among the list of unauthorised colonies, but Hassan was quoted as saying, “My house is unauthorised the way the entire colony is unauthorised. The whole exercise is to extort money from me.” He also alleged that no notice was served before razing his house. The demolition suggested that his house was particularly targeted even as some other houses in the colony remained unaffected. Ironically, DDA which was setup with the purpose of providing affordable housing to the economically weaker sections of the society has become of the leading agencies driving wholesale demolitions in the national capital to remove the encroachments and ‘illegal’ structures.

Throughout the month of January 2024, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) reportedly carried out a total of 440 demolitions. MCD claimed that it recovered around 70 acres from these demolition activities removing “illegal structures”. The areas where it carried out its operation include Dera Mandi, Bhati, Said-ul-Azaib, Chattarpur, Burari, Jaitpur, and Narela. The same report noted that the zealous demolitions drives were resumed after the temporary ban was lifted on construction and demolition activities under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). Notably, GRAP Stage III is invoked whenever the AQI index goes above 400, and during its stage III enforcement, all construction and demolition activities are completely banned to mitigate air pollution in the city.

On January 30, 2024, DDA demolished one mosque, four temples and 77 graves in Sanjay Van, which are were recorded as illegal structures in the protected Southern Ridge, Hindustan Times reported. DDA also demolished the historic Akhondji mosque as part this drive, which finds mention in Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) list under entry no 135, which recorded that the monument was repaired in 1853, much before Sanjay Van or DDA came up, contradicting the agency’s claim about its illegality. Notably, the agency also demolished the house of the grave digger Zakir Hussain in the process, leaving his family without any roof.

On December 21, 2023, MCD demolished around 300 houses near DPS Mathura Road in Nizamuddin, leaving the residents without any shelter in the biting cold of Delhi winters, Indian Express reported. Furthermore, the residents affected due to the demolition found no place in urban shelter homes run by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), as the DUSIB run shelter homes refused them entry. A month before, on November 13, 2023, large number of Burari residents were reported protesting against the demolition orders sent by the Land and Building Department, affecting around 1000 families and 4800 individuals, Land Conflict Watch reported. In the same month, New Indian Express noted that the demolition drive carried out against alleged encroachments in a slum cluster near Sunder Nursery at Nizamuddin has rendered over 500 families homeless.

HLRN report notes that most evictions (58.7%) during 2022-23 were carried out under the category of slum clearance/anti-encroachment, followed by 35% of evictions under the category of infrastructure and ‘development’ projects. It further revealed that in “….at least 36 per cent of evictions in 2023 and 27 per cent of evictions in 2022, affected persons belonged to historically marginalized groups, including religious minorities, Adivasis/Scheduled Tribes, Dalits/Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, as well as nomadic and indigenous communities, such as the Gadia Lohars.”

In the backdrop of G20 summit, which was hosted in New Delhi in 2023, thousands of poor residents were further rendered homeless, as the authorities zealously made efforts to clean up and beautify the city. As per the Down to Earth report, nearly 3 lakh residents were affected due to G20 preparations. “The Forced Evictions Across India and G20 Events” report prepared by the concerned citizens forum has said that “The demolitions in Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli are possibly linked to the heritage walks being planned for the G20 delegates. The Tughlaqabad demolitions, one of the biggest, have left more than 2,50,000 men, women and children displaced.” Outlook had reported that in April 2023 “close to 1,000 homes were razed in Tughlakabad claiming that the land belonged to the Archaeological Survey of India”. Similarly, it noted that 600 homes were razed in Moochand Basti, and further evictions were carried out in Mehrauli, Yamuna flood plains, and other areas of NCR region.  The Janta camp located at Pragati Maidan, the venue of G20 summit, and a slum cluster at Dhaula Quan were also demolished as the international delegation would traverse along that route. In June 2023, TheWire reported that 40 families were served notice to immediately vacate from the banks of the Yamuna, without specifying any deadline. As per the Quint, since March 2023, on the directives of the Delhi High, the DDA has carried out multiple demolition drives in the Yamuna floodplains. Reuters in its reportage on G20 induced demolitions in the national capital noted the response of the Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Kaushal Kishore as saying that “At least 49 demolition drives in New Delhi between April 1 and July 27 led to nearly 230 acres (93 hectares) of government land being reclaimed”. The Quint on September 7, 2023, published an article citing the parliamentary response of the housing ministry and said that “as many as 13.5 million people live in unauthorised colonies in the national capital”.

Law, Policy and Politics

While most of these demolitions take place under the guise of lawful and legal enforcement to remove illegal structures from the city, the substantive question of rule of law remains unanswered. The courts on their part are seen increasingly reluctant to stop such demolition drives, and even on many occasions directing the agencies to remove ‘illegal’ encroachments. Thus, the agencies often cite court orders or directives as a response when asked about the evictions and demolitions activities, ignoring that on many occasions even a notice is not issued to the affected person before undertaking demolition.

The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) released the policy in 2015 which notes that in-situ rehabilitation in the form of alternative accommodation shall be provided “to those living in JJ of Bastis, either on the same land or in the vicinity within a radius 5 Km. In case of exceptional circumstances, it can be even beyond 5 Km with prior approval of the Board.” But this protective cover extends only to Bastis and Jhuggies that have come up before 2006 and 2015 respectively. The policy maintains that “JJ Bastis which have come up before 01.01.2006 shall not be removed (as per NCT of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second Act, 2011) without providing them alternate housing. Jhuggis which have come up in such JJ Bastis before 01-01-2015 shall not be demolished without providing alternate housing…”. But the same policy also excludes any Basti or Jhuggi that has come up after the said cutoff dates, it notes, “GNCTD shall ensure that no new jhuggi comes up after 01-01- 2015. any jhuggi comes up after this date, the same shall immediately be removed without providing them any alternate housing.”

Importantly, DUSIB was setup as a response to the Supreme Court judgement in Sudama Singh and Others v. Govt. Of Delhi and Others, which ruled that in the context of the MPD (Master Plan for Delhi), “jhuggi dwellers are not to be treated as „secondary‟ citizens. They are entitled to no less an access to basic survival needs as any other citizen. It is the State‟s constitutional and statutory obligation to ensure that if the jhuggi dweller is forcibly evicted and relocated, such jhuggi dweller is not worse off. The relocation has to be a meaningful exercise consistent with the rights to life, livelihood and dignity of such jhuggi dweller.” The verdict further highlighted the need to undertake proper survey to record the jhuggis spread across the city and said that “…since most relocation schemes require proof of residence before a „cut-off date…If these documents are either forcefully snatched away or destroyed (and very often they are) then the jhuggi dweller is unable to establish entitlement to resettlement. Therefore, the exercise of conducting a survey has to be very carefully undertaken and with great deal of responsibility keeping in view the desperate need of the jhuggi dweller for an alternative accommodation.”

But this progressive judgement lost its force in the face of another Delhi High Court judgement delivered in 2022, which held that “only residents of 675 slums listed by the DUSIB and DDA were eligible for rehabilitation under the 2015 policy”, as per the Article 14 report. This verdict also affected another judgement on the Delhi High Court in Ajay Makan v. Union of India which had provided slum residents with constitutional protections from forced and unannounced evictions, Scroll reported. Furthermore, the aforementioned Article 14 report analysed the DUSIB Act and found that as per section 2(g) of the DUSIB Act, “a settlement may be considered a JJ basti only if it comprises at least 50 houses, making smaller slum colonies ineligible for rehabilitation even if residents meet other eligibility criteria.” Following these developments, courts have increasingly refused to intervene in matters of forceful or summary evictions by the public authorities, leaving the petitioners red-faced. Thus, as a result of these policy and legal developments, poor residents in the city find themselves without any strong constitutional or political recourse, with some lawyers and activists even arguing against going to courts in such cases.

Evictions and Elections 2024

As the Delhi votes on May 25 to send 7 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, many who lost their homes in the demolition drives are disillusioned and lack trust in any political party. Speaking with Indian Express, Renu, a voter from South Delhi constituency, expressed her displeasure and said “When the bulldozer arrived, nobody came to help. Nobody stood with us… so, who will we vote for…We lost our belongings in the demolition. I don’t want to vote for any of them…BJP carried out the demolitions, but the AAP government did nothing. Dealers sold the land to us and we took a loan to buy it. We didn’t know it was government land.”

Another voter, Mustaqim, from East Delhi constituency told the reporter that “Modi ji said ‘jahan jhuggi wahan makaan’. Here there’s no jhuggi, no house. The councillor and MLA (AAP Jangpura MLA Praveen Kumar) helped us with the court case. Now we can only hope…”

Both BJP and AAP touted ‘jahan jhuggi wahan makan’ scheme but the slow implementation of the Centre run PM-AWAS (Urban) scheme under which EWS flats are to be handed over to economically weaker section remains lackluster. Importantly, the issue of lack of funds in the hands of jhuggi dwellers makes even these highly subsidised schemes impractical for many. Therefore, even policies like DUSIB’s “Delhi Slum & JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015” remains ineffective as it requires eligible beneficiaries to pay rupees 1,12,000 + 30000(maintenance) to avail the benefits of alternative housing scheme.

While the opposition AAP and Congress, which are alliance partners, have criticised the Central Government for the spate of demolitions and evictions, the affected voters remain stoically unhappy that no party stood with it when demolitions took place.

The AAP is yet to release its manifesto for the Lok Sabha Election 2024 while Congress and BJP manifestos find no mention on rehabilitating the jhuggies or preventing demolitions.



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