State governments use demolitions as punitive measure, finds report

Authorities evicted at least 567 people per day or 24 people every hour across urban and rural India, revealed a new report from the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN)

A still from Jahangirpuri demolition drive (IANS Photo- File)
A still from Jahangirpuri demolition drive (IANS Photo- File)

NH Web Desk

From January 2021 to July 2022, the state government authorities demolished, at a minimum, over 62,330 houses and forcibly evicted about 331,560 (3 lakh) people across urban and rural India. 

In 2021 alone, state authorities evicted at least 567 people per day or 24 people every hour across urban and rural India, revealed a new report from the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).

These evictions pointed to the disturbing trend of “demolitions as a punitive measure” by various state governments.  These arbitrary acts of demolishing of homes and structures of minority communities have compounded the vulnerabilities of women, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities.

Preliminary research from January to July 2022 also reveals that state authorities across the country have already demolished over 25,800 homes affecting at least 124,450 people. These evictions occurred despite the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic from January to March 2022 and its continued impact on the livelihood and lives of people. 

The report has stated that while “a total of 158 incidents of forced eviction/home demolition have been documented” in 2021, about 15 million people across rural and urban areas continue to face the threat of eviction from their habitats”.

In the year 2021, HLRN recorded incidents of forced eviction across urban and rural India, in at least 17 states and 3 Union Territories (Chandigarh, Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmir). The report also conceded that it was, however, likely that evictions also took place in other states/Union Territories for which there was no information available. 

A large number of people lost their homes in ‘megacities’ (Delhi and Mumbai) and in other ‘million-plus urban agglomeration’ cities such as in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Coimbatore, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Patna, Prayagraj, Pune, Ranchi, Surat, and Varanasi. 

Demolitions as punitive measure

Statements from officials and ministries indicated the intention of using demolitions as punishments against those viewed by the State as participating in “communal clashes”. Similar demolitions also occurred in Khambat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat where Muslims families were affected.

Following the clashes during the Hanuman Jayanti procession, on April 20, 2022, officials from the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) arrived with 12 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and demolished around 25 shops, vending carts, and houses primarily belonging to Muslims in Jahangirpuri, Delhi, allegedly to remove “encroachments”. The demolition drive began early in the morning without adequate notice and continued despite an order from the Supreme Court later in the morning to maintain the status quo.

Similarly, in June 2022, the municipal authorities in Prayagraj and Saharanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh demolished homes of Muslim families allegedly to remove ‘encroachments’ in the backdrop of protests by Muslim community against controversial remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. 

In Madhya Pradesh’s Jirapur village, after an altercation between the Muslim and Dalit communities, state authorities demolished 18 homes of Muslim families who were deemed as accused in the incident. Around 30 houses in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood were also partially demolished, allegedly to remove ‘encroachments’ from the area, but was seen as a “collective punishment” against the community.

All the evictions and demolitions have been carried out by government agencies professedly to “clear encroachments” and remove “illegal structures” from public land. However, the state authorities have used this reasoning to arbitrarily select and demolish settlements.

In Mansarovar Park, Delhi, out of the three settlements, only the settlement with a mostly Muslim population was targeted during the demolition drive on 2 May 2022, just a day before Eid-ul-Fitr. The authorities partially destroyed at least 25 houses as well as their water connections, despite the heat, resulting in grave distress, fear of demolition, and insecurity amongst the community members especially women. 

In the past, state governments in India have been known to demolish homes of persons accused with rape and other crimes as a punitive measure. The recent incidents of demolition highlight forced evictions being used by government as a measure of punishment.

The HLRN report highlighted that taking cognizance of the alarming situation, in June 2022, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing along with the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and minority issues, sent a joint communication to the Government of India strongly condemning the destruction of Muslim homes and properties by state authorities to mete out “collective punishment” to the community.

Evictions in the name of wildlife projects

Environmental projects, which include protection of riverbeds and conservation of forests resulted in the eviction of 57 per cent of people in 2021; Evictions were carried out for a range of other reasons, including This resulted in the forced eviction and displacement of at least 1,17,623 people across the country. People were also evicted, the report stated, in the name of clearance of ‘encroachments’, beautification of the city or conservation of water bodies.

In one of the worst instances of evictions in 2021, around 10,000-15,000 families, accounting to over one lakh people, were forcefully removed from Khori Gaon, Haryana by the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad in July 2021. The eviction was carried out following directives from the Supreme Court to remove ‘encroachments’ in the Aravalli Forest areas. 

In July 2021, forest officials and Gotamunda Vana Surakhya Samiti (VSS) forcefully evicted 35 tribal families (190 people) from two villages in Kalahandi, Odisha, allegedly to vacate forest land of ‘illegal’ occupation. 

At least 28 per cent of people affected by forced evictions for 2021, belong to marginalized groups, including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, nomadic communities, migrant workers, and Muslims. 

Research found out that 59 per cent per cent of those who were evicted in 2021, did not receive any resettlement/partial resettlement/compensation from the state. And about 15 million people across rural and urban areas continue facing threat of eviction from their habitats.

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