United Nations raises alarm over forced evictions of Delhi railway track dwellers

An independent UN human rights expert on Monday has voiced concern over an Indian Supreme Court order to evict up to 250,000 people living in shacks along railway tracks in the capital, Delhi, warning that such a move could violate India’s obligations under many international rights treaties. 

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, also said that none of those affected, appeared to have been consulted or heard by the Court beforehand, and that the judges had initially ruled that no one should be allowed to seek to overturn the eviction order.

On 3 September, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra ordered the removal of 48,000 slum dwellings around 140 km of railways tracks in Delhi. The removal has to be completed within three months. The apex Court also directed that no Court should grant a stay in the matter.

“This amounts to a full-fledged denial of justice for the low income people living along the railway tracks,” Rajagopal said.

He said: “If this is maintained, India will squarely violate article 2.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights containing the core human rights principle that everyone can seek judicial relief against any decision she or he considered arbitrary.”

UN expert further claimed that any eviction into homelessness would amount to a serious violation of human rights and of India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Rajagopal called on the Supreme Court to reconsider the case in light of India’s international rights obligations, noting that the Court has a strong reputation of having previously delivered several landmark human rights decisions.

To contain coronavirus spread, Rajagopal urged the Government to ban all evictions during the pandemic under the country’s National Disaster Management Act or its Epidemics Act.

“While the relocation of some residents living in very close proximity to a railway track may be needed to protect them from potential railway accidents, any such eviction would only be compatible with international human rights law after a relocation plan is developed in consultation with the affected households and after alternative land or housing is made available to them in proximity to their current place of residence,” said Rajagopal.

UN rights office (OHCHR) also said it has contacted the Indian Government to clarify the issues in question and asked for his concerns to be shared with the Supreme Court.