By Rina Chandran
BANGKOK - The Delhi High Court has ruled that forced and unannounced evictions of slum dwellers without consultations or resettlement plans are illegal, striking a major victory for land rights campaigners in the Indian capital.
The ruling was in response to a 2015 petition on the forced eviction of about 5,000 slum dwellers at Shakur Basti in New Delhi on Dec. 12, 2015. A six-month old child died during the demolition of more than 1,000 settlements.
In its 104-page ruling, the High Court this week said slum dwellers in Delhi must not be viewed as "encroachers and illegal occupants".
"The right to housing is a bundle of rights not limited to a bare shelter over one's head," the court said.
"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, it said.
The rapid growth of Indian cities, combined with unclear land ownership, has triggered legal disputes and the forced eviction of poorer communities over the last two decades, human rights groups say.
At least six homes were destroyed and 30 people forcibly evicted each hour in India in 2017, as authorities modernised cities and built roads and airports, according to the advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
Monday's ruling is "extremely significant for building jurisprudence on the right to housing," Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It stresses the need to stop viewing the poor as 'encroachers' and illegal occupants of the land, and calls for due process to be followed by the state before carrying out any evictions," she said on Wednesday.
In the Shakur Basti case, many residents said they had lived there for nearly two decades.
Authorities said the land belonged to the state-run Indian Railways, and that residents had been repeatedly told to leave.
When slum dwellers must be removed from a settlement, authorities must first survey and consult them to determine if rehabilitation at the location is feasible. If not, they must be given adequate time to move, the Delhi High Court ruled.
But there is no uniform rehabilitation policy, and several government agencies do not even have such a policy, said Choudhary A.Z. Kabir, a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Network, who represented the slum dwellers in the case.
"When you talk about the right to housing, it really is the poor who most need the right to adequate housing, yet they are denied," he said.
"They build our cities and provide all the services, yet their right to city is also denied."