Demolitions as a form of punishment: HLRN

Report on forced evictions in 2021 sheds light on a pattern of institutional abuse

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The Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) has released its latest report on forced evictions, and it reveals how demolitions have become a part of institutional violence against religious minorities, indigenous people and dissidents.  

According to the report titled Forced Evictions in India 2021, “In 2021, information collected by Housing and Land Rights Network reveals that government authorities at both the central and state levels demolished over 36,480 homes, thereby evicting over 207,100 (2.07 lakh) people from their homes across urban and rural India.”

The report also includes some figures from 2022 and says, “Preliminary research from January to July 2022 also reveals that state authorities across the country have already demolished over 25,800 homes affecting at least 124,450 people.” The report clarifies that the figures in the report are conservative estimates based on “secondary data, partner organizations, and its own reach in the areas,” and says, “The actual number of people evicted/ displaced across India in 2021 and 2022 is likely to be much higher.”

It further says, “All the evictions and demolitions have been carried out by government agencies professedly to “clear encroachments” and remove “illegal structures” from public land. However, the state authorities have used this reasoning to arbitrarily select and demolish settlements.”

Demolitions as punishment

Shedding light on the spate of demolitions that followed incidents of communal violence, the report says, “Following the communal violence during the celebrations for the Hindu festivals of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti in April 2022 in Madhya Pradesh, 16 houses and 29 shops of Muslim households were demolished in Khargone district, including a house built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing for All) Scheme.”

It further says, “Statements from government officials and ministers indicated the intention of using demolitions as punishment against those who were viewed by the state as participating in the communal clashes.”

The report also mentions similar incidents from Khambat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat, and Jahangirpuri in Delhi. In the case of the Jahangirpuri demolitions, the report points out, “The demolition drive began early in the morning without adequate notice and continued despite an order from the Supreme Court later in the morning to maintain the status quo.”

The report then goes on to mention the Prayagraj and Saharanpur demolitions and says that the authorities “demolished homes of Muslim families allegedly to remove ‘encroachments’ in the backdrop of protests by the Muslim community against controversial religious remarks.” It highlights, “Notices of demolitions were served to those found accused in protests leading to communal tensions.”

Demolitions during Covid pandemic

Taking note of how demolition drives were carried out even amidst the raging Covid-19 pandemic, the report says, “In 2021, state authorities continued to demolish homes even at a time when the raging virus wrecked people’s lives, livelihoods and health.” It goes on to highlight the plight of evicted low-income families who were deprived of shelter and therefore protection from disease and other elements of nature. It said that “the loss of homes and personal belongings during demolition drives further exacerbated their harsh living conditions and their vulnerability to contracting the virus.”

What are the official reasons for demolition?

HLRN has identified five broad reasons officially cited by authorities to carry out demolitions. While, the largest number i.e 57 percent of evictions were due to environmental projects, wildlife conservation and forest protection, infrastructure projects that have caused eviction of 27.13 percent of the people. Meanwhile, slum clearance, anti-encroachment, city beautification account for the eviction of 14.31 percent of affected persons, and disaster management accounts for 1.63 percent of affected people and other reasons including military operations and conflict only account for 0.14 percent.

With respect to demolition carried out due to environmental projects, wildlife conservation and forest protection, the report says, “In many of these instances, the evictions were carried out under the orders of the judiciary and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) deepening the artificial conflict between human rights and rights of the environment.”

It also points out, “While demolitions were carried out purportedly for the conservation of environment and forests, it is unfortunate that they result in the eviction of local communities, who live harmoniously with nature and contribute to its conservation and sustainable development.”

Impact on marginalised communities

According to the report, “Primary research by HLRN reveals that of the total 158 cases of eviction documented in the year 2021, in 44 incidents (28 percent) the people affected belong to marginalized groups including Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, nomadic communities, migrant workers, and Muslims, including in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Rajasthan.”

The complete report may be read here: 



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