By Rina Chandran
BANGKOK - At least 11 million people in India risk being uprooted from their homes and land as authorities build highways and airports and cordon off forests, activists said on Tuesday, undermining a government push to provide housing for all citizens by 2022.
The estimate includes about 1.9 million indigenous families whose land claims under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected, said advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
Last year alone, authorities demolished at least 114 houses every day, evicting about 23 people every hour, according to HLRN's report published Tuesday in New Delhi.
Slum clearance and city "beautification" drives accounted for nearly half the evictions, while infrastructure and development projects, and forest protection made up a fourth each, it said.
"Evictions have become so common, they are normalised, and we don't see the outpouring of sympathy and help that we see when there is a big natural disaster," said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN.
"But there is nothing normal about evicting the poorest, most vulnerable people to beautify cities or build an airport," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
In most cases, authorities did not follow due process, including giving advance notice, and few people were resettled or received adequate compensation, Chaudhry said.
The rapid growth of Indian cities, combined with unclear land ownership, is increasingly triggering legal disputes and forceful evictions of poorer communities, rights groups say.
There are more than 680 disputes over land in India, affecting nearly 8 million people, according to research firm Land Conflict Watch.
An official at the Delhi Development Authority, which undertook evictions in the nation's capital, said there is "huge pressure" from builders and other entities to free up land.
"So despite a zero-eviction and in-situ housing policy of Delhi's slum board, evictions continue to take place," said Somnath Bharti.
Authorities demolished more than 41,700 homes last year across the country, forcefully evicting at least 202,000 people, according to HLRN.
There is no official data on evictions.
A government plan, Housing for All, is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes by 2022. But implementation has been slow, and campaigners say it will not fix the issue of homelessness and informal settlements.
"It is ironic that forced evictions and demolitions have continued despite the Housing for All scheme, and other government programmes that claim to focus on housing for marginalised and low-income populations," Chaudhry said.
Evictions have become a poll issue ahead of a general election that kicks off Thursday.
The main opposition Congress party, in its manifesto, has promised the urban poor the right to housing and "protection from arbitrary eviction".
It also committed to end the eviction of the nearly 2 million indigenous families living in forests.