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No Place To Call Home: Examining The Legality Of Slum Demolitions Carried Out For The G20 Summit

The 18th G20 Summit took place in New Delhi on 9th and 10th September 2023. The central government aimed to focus the G20 meetings on "achieving inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth"[1] and the theme of the Summit was "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam". However, the "beautification drives" conducted by the government to prepare the city for the G20 Summit, comprising the demolition of numerous slums, were antithetical to the very theme of the Summit. The demolitions also violated many human rights, indicating where the poor lie on the State's priority list and that being poor is nothing short of a crime in India.

This essay aims to highlight the unlawful nature of the slum demolitions carried out in preparation for the G20 Summit, with the help of legal provisions as well as case laws. Firstly, it discusses the Indian Acts and International Conventions which have affirmed the housing rights of slum dwellers. It then examines the case laws which have granted the right to shelter and provided protection against arbitrary displacements. The essay finally analyses the loopholes in the existing legal provisions on housing rights of the poor and gives suggestions to provide remedies to those who have been displaced due to the G20 Summit.

The demolition drives were carried out in over 15 areas of Delhi, including Mehrauli, Tughlakabad, Pragati Maidan and Shakarpur, among others, according to data collected[2] by Land Conflict Watch. The slums in Mehrauli and Tughlakabad (home to many UNESCO World Heritage sites) were demolished to prepare the area for a heritage walk organised for the foreign delegates, while those in Pragati Maidan were bulldozed as it was the main venue for the G20 Summit. Slums in other areas, such as Yamuna floodplains and Moolchand were en route to the main venue and thus taken down.

This phenomenon, unfortunately, is not new to India. When the Commonwealth Games were organised in Delhi in 2010, close to 350 slums (housing 3 lakh people) were demolished, on the pretext of developing the infrastructure of the city for the Games. According to the report[3] published by Housing and Land Rights Network, only a third of those who were evicted were resettled and no adequate compensation was provided. It is a pity that political parties are ever so ready to snatch credit from each other on the passing of a bill or policy but refuse to learn from and rectify each other's mistakes.

Indian Law On Slum Dwellers' Rights

In the case of U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad v. Friends Coop. Housing Society Ltd.[4], the Supreme Court stated: "The right to shelter is a fundamental right, which springs from the right to residence under Article 19 (1)(e)[5] and the right to life under Article 21[6]." The Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1965[7] provides the right to receive compensation to every person who has any interest in the land which is to be acquired. The Act stipulates that no entry shall be made into any building or house without the consent of the owner and that a notice has to be provided to the owner 24 hours prior to making such entry.

The Act also provides the right to appeal against an order of demolition within a prescribed time limit. The Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015[8] contains provisions for rehabilitation and relocation on the fulfilment of certain conditions.

International Recognition

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognise the right to housing and proper living conditions. The Convention on Rights of Child, in Article 27 paragraph 3, recognises the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Evolution Of Right To Housing Through Case Laws

The case of Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation[9] was the first landmark case to create seminal jurisprudence on this issue. It dealt with the forceful eviction of pavement dwellers in Mumbai during monsoons. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the State must honour the constitutional rights to life, livelihood and housing under Article 21[10], even in the absence of formal legal title (ownership rights to the property) with the inhabitants. It recognised two sets of entitlements[11] as part of the right to housing � a right to notice and hearing prior to evictions, and access to rehabilitation under existing schemes for the same.

In the case of Sudama Singh vs. Govt of Delhi[12], the Delhi High Court proposed a mechanism, wherein the exercise of conducting a survey had to be undertaken for the purposes of providing alternative accommodation. It also held that the obligation of the State to provide or ensure rehabilitation and resettlement has to be prior to initiating moves for evictions.

In Rutuparna Mohanty vs. State of Orissa[13], slum dwellers evicted from the premises of S.C.B. Medical College moved to Orissa High Court and sought interim measures such as food, shelter, education and a direction to the State Government to formulate a Rehabilitation and Resettlement Plan. The High Court granted the reliefs sought and held that there was a legal obligation for the rehabilitation of slum dwellers under Article 243W (Powers, authority and responsibilities of Municipalities) read with 12th Schedule, which talk about planning for socio-economic development and safeguarding the interests of the weaker sections of the society.

The Delhi High Court, in the case of Ajay Maken vs. Union of India[14], held that "the right to housing is a bundle of rights not limited to a bare shelter over one's head. It includes the right to livelihood, right to health, right to education and right to food, including right to clean drinking water, sewerage and transport facilities, as well as the right to enjoy the freedom to live in the city."

In the recent demolitions, before razing down the houses, the authorities broke the handpumps so that the inhabitants wouldn't have access to water and would be left with no option but to evacuate. This move was in complete ignorance of the Ajay Maken judgement. Despite numerous Court rulings outlining eviction protocols and remedies in case of non-compliance, there has been no rehabilitation, no resettlement plan[15], or even a survey for those whose homes were razed down during the "beautification drives" for G20.

In many instances, notices were served as the demolitions were being carried out, in utter disregard of the established legal procedure. This is a clear violation of the fundamental right to shelter provided under Article 21[16] and Article 19 (1)(e)[17] and observations held by the Indian Courts in landmark cases on Public Housing Jurisprudence.

Loopholes In The Legal Framework
The policies on Public Housing and Rehabilitation of slum dwellers are still very vague and non-uniform in the India. For instance, The relocation policy under The Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015[18] states that the Jhuggi-Jhopri clusters which have come up before January 1, 2006 shall not be removed without rehabilitation, but contains no rehabilitation provisions for the slums that cropped up after this "cut-off" date. Such policies lack inclusively and defeat the purpose of providing housing facilities to all impoverished sections of the society.

Furthermore, in recent years, the Courts have given many judgements[19] ordering the removal of slums without thinking twice about the helplessness which forces the poor to set up their dwellings on public property, thus weakening the case laws affirming their rights. Such lacunae give the government the courage to keep repeating the same patterns over and over without any accountability.

  • The Supreme Court should take Suo moto cognisance of the issue and direct the Central and Delhi governments to take immediate steps to provide housing facilities to those who have been displaced and design a rehabilitation and resettlement plan at the earliest.
  • In the meantime, the authorities should provide temporary living shelters as well as food and other basic amenities to the displaced.
  • Compensation should be provided to families having very meagre incomes to sustain themselves and to continue their children's education.
  • The Delhi government should also make changes to its policy which specifies a "cut-off" date for rehabilitation to remove arbitrariness and make it more inclusive.
  • Efforts should also be taken to ensure the safety of women and children who have lost their homes.
  • There should be a legal framework in place to protect the poor and downtrodden from exploitation and displacement.

The slum demolitions carried out by the State are punitive in nature and throw the poor under the bus in an effort to portray the image of a poverty-free country to the world, which is far from reality. Infrastructural development must go hand in hand with the growth of all sections of the society, most importantly the marginalised and deprived sections.

There is a need for more robust and uniform laws to protect the rights of the slum dwellers. Shelter is one of the most fundamental needs of a human and if India wishes to become a developed country in every sense of the word, providing this basic requirement to every citizen is absolutely imperative.

  1. G20 New Delhi Leaders' Declaration.
  2. Mukta Joshi and Prudhviraj Rupavath, 'Delhi's poor bear the brunt of #G20-linked evictions', Land Conflict Watch (7 September 2023) accessed 30 September 2023.
  3. Housing and Land Rights Network, 'Planned Dispossession: Forced Evictions and the 2010 Commonwealth Games', Habitat International Coalition, (February 2011).
  4. U.P. Avas Evam Vikas Parishad & Anr v Friends Coop. Housing [1996] AIR 114.
  5. The Constitution of India 1950, art 19(1)(e).
  6. The Constitution of India 1950, art 21.
  7. The Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act 1965.
  8. The Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015.
  9. Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation [1986] AIR 180.
  10. The Constitution of India 1950, art 21.
  11. Gautam Bhatia, 'The Supreme Court's Eviction Order Ignores the Rights of Jhuggi Dwellers', Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy (5 September 2020) accessed 2 October 2023.
  12. Sudama Singh v Government of Delhi, [2010] SCC OnLine Del 612.
  13. Rutuparna Mohanty v State of Orissa [2010] SCC OnLine Ori 195.
  14. Ajay Maken v Union of India [2019] SCC OnLine Del 7618.
  15. Outlook Web Desk, 'G20 Evictions: Homelessness Was The Cost Of Beautification Drive', Outlook (8 September 2023) accessed 2 October 2023.
  16. The Constitution of India 1950 art 21.
  17. The Constitution of India 1950 art 19 (1)(e).
  18. The Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2016.
  19. Colin Gonsalves, 'Courts Backing The Executive On Demolitions Is More Painful', Outlook (13 June, 2022) accessed 2 October 2023.

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