We find Supreme Court order evicting slum dwellers discriminatory on several counts: Public statement

In August 2020, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India ordered removal of 48000 slum dwellings that were around a 140-km railway track in Delhi without providing for any rehabilitation. A civil rights collective Public Bolti released a statement responding to the order. The statement is reproduced below.

We write to the Supreme Court to reconsider the judgment of its order of 31.08.2020 in M.C. Mehta versus Union of India and others (Writ Petition no 13029/1985). A 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered the removal of 48,000 homes in a 70 km stretch of railway route in Delhi. The communities have been residing on the said land for the past 30 years and have well-established lives and livelihoods. Three months have been given for the implementation of the order.

We find the order anti-working class on several counts –

1. This order violates the right to natural justice and violates their right to live with dignity.

2. The court order comes at a time when the entire world is dealing with a pandemic, COVID. Demolition of these proportions will expose approximately 2.5 lakh people to grave health risks and will have a significant consequence for the public at large.

3. The Supreme Court passed the order to demolish 48,000 slums, without any information about the present status of the rehabilitation of these slum-dwellers. Neither the residents nor the rehabilitation agency – The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board – were even a party to the Writ Petition.

The order does not address or take into account the established policy protections for residents under the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) policy on relief and rehabilitation (2015), as well as the law laid down by the High Court of Delhi in Ajay Maken versus Union of India (2019) – also known as the Shakur Basti judgment – that the DUSIB policy (on procedures to be followed in case of forced evictions including adequate notice and clear rehabilitation arrangements) also applies specifically and wholly to settlements on Railway land.

4. The Supreme Court has taken away the right of access to remedy of the affected people without even granting them a chance of hearing by putting an embargo on grant of stay by other courts. This again is in violation of principles of natural justice and a violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The residents of these communities are hard-working – daily wagers, street vendors, domestic workers, construction workers, and people occupied in small and medium enterprises. The pandemic and lockdown has already made them vulnerable and demolitions will further increase their vulnerability.

Therefore, We request the SC to reconsider and revise its order and look into the following –

1. Reconsider the decision of demolitions and ensure that no demolitions are carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic while the NDMA and the Epidemics Act are in force. Also ensure that no agencies use force and threat of demolition.

2. Direct the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board along with the Railways to come out with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan in meaningful consultation with the affected communities.  

3. In case of forced evictions, the United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement (UN Guidelines) must be followed to ensure human rights are upheld.

4. Ensure that the Government and different agencies come together to discuss the actual issues at hand on waste disposal and come up with a Plan of Action that does not involve the forced eviction and mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who are not responsible for the waste generation.

5. Put immediate moratorium on the ongoing demolition drive of bastis along the railway tracks as part of this SC order.