A Supreme Court order to evict jhuggis across the city has left thousands facing an uncertain future, with residents saying they are more financially strained and marginalised than they have ever been.
On August 31, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari directed that jhuggis or ‘encroachments’ in safety areas near railway tracks “be removed within a period of three months and no interference, political or otherwise, should be there and no Court shall grant any stay with respect to removal of the encroachments in the area in question”.
It went on to state in its order, “In case any interim order is granted with respect to encroachments, which have been made along railway tracks, that shall not be effective.”
An affidavit filed by Ashwani Kumar Yadav, Additional Divisional Railway Manager at DRM office, estimated that out of 140 km of railway track in Delhi, “about 70 km route length of track is affected by large jhuggi jhopri clusters existing in close vicinity of the tracks. These clusters sum up to a total of about 48,000 jhuggies in the region adjacent to railway tracks”.
While the order does not name specific locations, housing rights activists are trying to inform and prepare residents of such areas. “The specific areas are not properly defined but we are trying to let the people in areas likely to be affected know. Some of those near railway tracks are Shakurbasti, the jhuggis under Safdarjung flyover, in Pul Mithai, Anna Nagar, Mayapuri and Kirti Nagar. The people are not even aware that such an order has been passed,” said Abdul Shakeel, a member of Basti Suraksha Manch.
Residents, meanwhile, are still reeling under the economic effects of the national lockdown. Subodh Bind (43), a resident of the Pul Mithai slum who is a streetside vendor selling masalas, had just returned to Delhi from his village on Thursday when he heard about the order. “There are around three jhuggi clusters near the railway tracks here — with 56, 35 and around 60 households. Most of the people work as streetside vendors and their income has dried up by the lockdown. I went back to my village in Bihar in June because of this. I have left my two children and came back to try and work again and now this has happened,” he said.
In March last year, the Delhi High Court had passed a landmark judgment on housing rights while ruling on the eviction by the Railways in Shakurbasti jhuggi area. The court had made it clear that there was no imminent possibility of their eviction until a survey was conducted to identify all those who were eligible for rehabilitation according to the DUSIB’s 2015 Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy; arrangements for rehabilitation made; and if relocation was required, the residents were to be given adequate time to move to the new site — a principle which was to be followed in the case of any eviction.
“The new order is surprising because jhuggis along the railway tracks are covered by last year’s High Court decision. Since jhuggi dwellers represented by various petitioners were not made parties before the Supreme Court, this vital policy and court order was not brought to its notice. If this order is implemented without rehabilitation, great distress will be caused to thousands of families already in grave danger due to Covid,” said Choudhary Ali Zia Kabir, a housing rights activist who has represented jhuggi dwellers in numerous eviction cases.
Said Muhammad Kalimuddin, a Shakurbasti resident who is currently in his village in Bihar’s Madhepura: “Most men worked in loading and unloading cement from trains at Shakurbasti station. That has stopped. Around 70% people had gone back to their villages but are now slowly returning.”
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