While evictions of the poor from their huts and small houses should be avoided as far as possible in all circumstances, the situation since the pandemic appeared has been all the more difficult for the weaker sections as they suffered very big losses in earnings and employment. What’s more, weather conditions have also been becoming more adverse in these times of climate change as seen in more frequent and extreme heat waves and more episodes of heavy rainfall.
Keeping in view all these factors there is a very strong case for entirely avoiding evictions of the poor from their homes and livelihoods. It is well known that housing of weaker sections is also related often to livelihoods, this either being based in the settlement itself or housing much being sought near employment places. In such cases evictions not only deprive the poor of their living place but in addition also harm their livelihoods at a time when this has already suffered immense harm due to pandemic and lockdown related factors.
Despite there being such a strong case against evictions, these have continued in many places. While those in Faridabad district attracted a lot of attention, there were also several other evictions in Chandigarh, Gurugram, Delhi and other cities as well in recent times. In these circumstances organizations of weaker sections have been increasingly feeling the need for organizing and protesting against evictions so that evictions can be checked and restrained.
Several organisations of weaker sections, hawkers, domestic workers, women workers, people from low-income neighbourhoods and shanty-towns came together to join a protest of Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on September 6 to demand a halt to any further evictions.
A large number of people including women who have been evicted from their homes in slums, jhuggies, resettlement colonies, and informal sector workers who have been denied their livelihood without any rehabilitation gathered to raise their voice against what they called the “Bulldozer Raj”. They said that weaker sections of society like dalits and tribals have suffered the most in these evictions. An agenda of communalizing society when added to this has increased the dangers of evictions and attempts are also being made to damage the unity of the working class.
The protesters said that according to their calculations based on what has happened from the on-set of Covid-19 pandemic till date, more than 6,00,000 people have been evicted from their homes. At the same time, the future threat is even greater, they said. Despite this, not much is being herd about rehabilitation plans, the protesters said. Although many urban houses are vacant, the availability of affordable housing for the poor has lagged behind. There is great uncertainty regarding the significant numbers of slums/bastis that have not even been surveyed. While the conditions of Delhi and nearby areas were more highlighted in this protest, it was pointed out that the situation in most other parts of the country is not much different.
People from Gyaspur Basti, Khori Gaon Faridabad, Haryana, Ghaziabad, Agra, Dhobi Ghat Camp, Kasturba Nagar, Bela Ghat etc. who gathered at this protest had faced eviction & demolition, despite having court stay order in some cases. These demolitions/evictions have violated the many “alternative shelter” provisions that both the executive and judiciary have been guaranteed or promised from time to time to the urban poor and this is inconsistent with the rights to life, livelihood and dignity of the affected people.
While the unemployment in the country is rising day by day, hawkers, street vendors, waste segregation & sanitation workers are being evicted from their place of work, the protesters said. Recently released data has shown that daily wage workers are affected by high suicide rate, indicating how desperate their condition has become.
The following demands have been sent to the government by these protesting organisations:
Immediately halt forced displacement
No eviction before complete rehabilitation
All the jhuggis/slums should be surveyed and eligible bastis be notified for rehabilitation
Make erring officials accountable for unjust and illegal evictions
Every state should have a rehabilitation policy whose cut-off date should be 2021
Immediately complete the survey of street vendors, hawkers etc. and issue certificates of vending
Regulate unorganized workers and provide social protection
20-30% urban area should be reserved for working class
*Views expressed are the author’s own. The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.
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