Over 2.57 lakh people evicted from their homes by Union and state governments during pandemic
These evictions contradict PM Modi’s call for ‘Housing for All’ by 2022, for which a flagship programme called Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana had been announced in November 2015
During the pandemic, more than 2.57 lakh people were evicted from their homes by various governments at a time when people were already reeling under the economic crisis brought about by the lockdown. Between March 2020 and July 2021, there were at least 245 incidents of forced eviction across India, according to a study by Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
Of these evictions, 119 occurred in 2021 (from January 1 to July 31, 2021), and 126 took place in 2020 (from March to December 2020). This year, 24,445 homes were demolished, affecting over 169,176 people. Of these, about 13,750 people were evicted during the peak of the second wave and resultant lockdowns in April and May 2021. The majority of those evicted did not have access to justice during the lockdown and the pandemic.
These evictions contradict Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Housing for All’ by 2022, for which a flagship programme - Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin - had even been announced in November 2016.
It was a grave humanitarian crisis as instead of protecting citizens during the life-threatening pandemic, governments forcibly evicted and demolished homes of marginalised and low-income persons in both rural and urban areas. It violated the critical call given by Union and state government asking people to ‘stay at home.’
“It is unconscionable to even imagine that a government entrusted with protecting the health of people during this deadly pandemic could destroy homes of the most marginalised, directly increasing the risk to their lives. India must impose a moratorium on evictions, for any reason, and ensure that all evicted and displaced persons are immediately provided secure housing,” said Shivani Chaudhry, HLRN executive director.
The report found that in 2020, court orders—including of the Supreme Court of India, state High Courts, and the National Green Tribunal—were responsible for the eviction of over 88,560 persons across the country, accounting for 51% of the total population evicted in the year. More than 87% of those who had been evicted did not receive any rehabilitation from the government and neither did the states follow due process for rehabilitation.
This HLRN report comes in the backdrop of the recent evictions from Khori Gaon basti at the periphery of Delhi and Faridabad in Haryana and at the foothills of the Aravallis. Families, who had moved here between 1970 and 1990, suddenly find themselves without a home. During every election, politicians including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised them regularization.
The Supreme Court had ordered the petitioner, the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF), to evict people, but also had instructed the municipal corporation to rehabilitate those living there. But, it wasn’t done before the forced evictions.
Delhi witnessed a number of forced evictions between June and October 2020, most of which were carried out by Union government agencies, especially the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Indian Railways. In October, DDA demolished 150 houses, out of the 500 identified, near Akshardham Temple to remove ‘encroachments’ on its land despite people having been living there for 40 years. No prior notice was provided to the affected families. During the demolition drive, DDA also destroyed crops of some of the families for whom farming was the only source of livelihood.
A team of Delhi Police team evicted 150 families living in Israeli Camp, Rangpuri Pahadi at night, without any prior notice in October itself, rendering more than 1,000 people, including children and senior citizens, homeless in the winter.
After an order from the National Green Tribunal to remove ‘encroachments’ along the floodplains of the Yamuna River in Delhi, DDA demolished over 35 houses near the Dhobi Ghat area in Jamia Nagar in September 2020. The authorities not only bulldozed their houses but also destroyed basic services like water supply and toilets.
These evictions are despite court orders in the Ajay Maken vs Union of India case, which states that persons complaining against forced evictions cannot be viewed as ‘encroachers’ and illegal occupants of land, whether public or private’. In the same case, the court had stated that protocol must be followed before an eviction, including issuance of adequate notice and opportunity to be heard.
However, in none of the evictions the state authorities provided prior notice or sufficient time to remove their possessions from their homes before evicting them.
A large number of people lost their homes in ‘megacities’ such as Delhi and Mumbai and in other ‘million plus urban agglomerations’ (Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Chennai, Coimbatore, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kota, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Madurai, Nagpur, Nashik, Patna, Pune, Rajkot, Ranchi, Surat, and Varanasi). Demolitions of homes were also reported in Tier I cities such as Anantapur, Bathinda, Bhilai, Bilaspur, Bhubaneswar, Dehradun, Gurugram, Guwahati, Mysore, Patiala, Puri, Raebareli, Rewa, Ujjain, and Yamunanagar.
"It is unconscionable to even imagine that a government entrusted with protecting the health of people during this deadly pandemic could destroy homes of the most marginalised, directly increasing the risk to their lives. India must impose a moratorium on evictions, for any reason, and ensure that all evicted and displaced persons are immediately provided secure housing," said Chaudhry.
Currently, nearly 1.6 crore people across the country live under the threat of eviction from their homes. In the country more than 40 lakh of the urban population are homeless and at least 7.5 crore live in ‘informal settlements’ in urban areas without access to essential services, including water and sanitation. These evictions were carried out under guise of slum-clearance, encroachment-removal, city-beautification, development forest and wildlife conservation, and in certain cases, targeted discrimination.
The study recorded that in 2020, for the first time, 49% of those evicted (85,033) lost their homes due to environmental projects, including wildlife and forest conservation efforts.
There are fears that as more real estate and infrastructure projects get sanctioned and implemented, a large number of people living at or near sites marked for such projects, including for mining, ports, dams, airports, roads, and highways, are likely to be evicted and displaced. It is worrisome because the post-Covid economic recovery plans of the Indian government include the creation of ‘land banks’ for industries, easing of land acquisition procedures in several states, and dilution of environmental laws.
By evicting people into homelessness, states are not only drastically increasing the number of homeless people in the country, explained Chaudary, but are also contravening the government's goal of providing ‘Housing for All’ by 2022. With every home demolished, the state is contributing to a rise in poverty, unemployment, and marginalisation.
“The poor are not illegal, it is high time the Indian government stops treating them like that,” asserted Chaudhry.