SC directs 48,000 shanties to be razed along railways track in Delhi

The order was in connection with a petition filed by MC Mehta in 1985 in which the court has been intermittently passing orders in the interest of control of pollution on Delhi


The Supreme Court, on August 31, directed the removal of nearly 48,000 shanties along the 140-km railway tracks of New Delhi. The bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari directed that his task be completed within 3 months and disallowed any court from granting a stay on this order. This order comes just 3 days before Justice Mishra retired from office as a judge of the Supreme Court.

This order was passed in a petition which was filed by MC Mehta in 1985 and the apex court has been passing directions in the case since then, time and again in issues pertaining to pollution in and around Delhi. The rationale behind passing this order also was to prevent piling up of waste garbage along railway tracks but the order does not seem to draw any connection between failure of Railways in implementing waste management and the unauthorised slums along the railway tracks.

The Environment Pollution (Protection and Control) Authority (EPCA) submitted to the court that Indian Railways is not in compliance with the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, which require the bulk waste generator to operationalise a plan for all waste generated. The EPCA recommended a series of steps to be followed by Railways to plan for waste management in a time bound manner.

The Railways in its affidavit mentioned that there is a predominant presence of jhuggis or slums in Delhi along with 140 km route length of track in the region of NCT of Delhi. It was also stated that Out of this, about 70 km route length of track is affected by large jhuggi jhopri clusters existing in close vicinity of the tracks.

The Railways also informed the court that it already has a Special task Force for removal of encroachments from the Railway Property as per NGT orders but there is political intervention against removal of such encroachments which are coming in the way.

Taking this into consideration, the bench ordered, “a comprehensive plan for removal of jhuggies be made and executed in a phased manner. The encroachments which are there in the safety zones should be removed within a period of three months and no interference, political or otherwise, should be there and no Court shall grant any stay with respect to removal of the encroachments in the area in question”.

Further removing any more difficulties in implementation of the order, the court stated, “In case any interim order is granted with respect to encroachments, which have been made along with railway tracks, that shall not be effective.”

Pulling up authorities for lack of waste management, the court stated, “The picture painted in the Report of the EPCA as well as in the reply filed by the Railways indicates that nothing has been done so far and waste is being piled up and at the same time, there is human habitation which has come in the same area unauthorisedly, which are required to be taken care of.”

Background of slum clearance in metro cities

According to the 69th Round of National Sample Survey, 28 percent of about 6,343 slums in Delhi are on railway land. Though the land belongs to the railways, many residents have legal leases for their structures from different state authorities. Some jhuggies along railway lines in Delhi have been in existence for more than 30 years. The railways does not take responsibility for the rehabilitation of those evicted from its land. It does not have an existing resettlement and rehabilitation policy. 

In some instances, however, the railways have been made to undertake rehabilitation. In Mumbai, railway authorities were made to provide housing to those evicted from land close to the Dahisar and Andheri railway tracks.

A petition was filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Delhi on July 26, 2014, seeking a clean up along railways tracks in India. The NGT, in 2015, directed Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board and the city’s civic agencies to relocate all illegal settlements along railway tracks in Delhi within 6 months.

There are some countries that give people the right to occupy unused land for housing. For instance, Brazil guarantees its citizens such a right. In India, there exists no such rights but instead there is the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, which prohibits the general public from occupying any public premises. 

Order on Smog Towers

Another order was passed in this petition with regards to construction of smog towers in Delhi. The court directed the Central Environment Ministry as well as Delhi NCT’s Department of Environment to complete work related to smog towers within 10 months. The court stated that non-compliance of the order would be considered as contempt of the order as there is already huge unjustified delay in complying with it.

Where does the problem lie?

Undisputedly, slum dwellings along railway tracks can be hazardous both for the railways as well as the human settlers. In 2015, a fire had engulfed slums along the railway tracks in Bandra area of Mumbai and railway services were affected until the fire could be brought under control.

There is certainly a need to maintain a safe zone along railway tracks but providing a solution of simply razing the slum habitations with utter disregard to the human lives thus affected is not what one expects from the highest court of the land. The Supreme court could have passed an order like the NGT order of 2015 directing rehabilitation of these slum dwellers, putting the onus on the Railways and the Municipal Corporation, as they failed to keep these encroachments in check in the first place. All metro cities face the menace of encroachment of slums on unauthorized land and one way to deal with this is to give up the unutilized land for residential settlements of these slum dwellers.

In this case, there are safety concerns as well since the settlements are close to railway tracks. The same could have been resolved without creating a humanitarian issue by directing civic bodies and the government to come up with a plan for resettlement of these slum dwellers to a nearby land so that their livelihood also remains unaffected. The problem with this order of “removal of slums” is not just that it lacks concern for the affected human life but, like in many cases, there is always a possibility that once removed, these slums will mushroom again in the same places as they have not been provided with any other remedy for settlement.

The complete order may be read here.


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