Soon, no homes to work from

ByMAYANK JAIN PARICHHA

Sep 25, 2020

Life for people living in 48,000 slum dwellings hangs by a thread as the Supreme Court orders their removal within three months

Pushpa, 35 recalls her childhood when she was living with her father in a makeshift house on land allotted by railways alongside the railway tracks just behind Madrasi colony. Her father, a railway employee, was soon given a government quarter where she stayed till her marriage.

Pushpa’s luck brought her back to the same place when her father married her off when she was 16 years of age and gave her their old makeshift house as dowry — and now she has a family of four living in the same house in a slum of 20-25 odd families near Madrasi colony in Nizamuddin.

Pushpa’s husband is an e-rickshaw driver and she works as a house help, but since lockdown began she lost her work. Now she, like all the other women of the slum, is doing laborious beadwork.

“I was born here, I spent almost all my life in this same house, my husband is from UP but I am from Delhi and this is our home. Where will we go? We have ration cards, voter cards, Aadhar cards, aren’t we Delhi residents?” she questions. Some of the families in these jhuggis have been living here for more than 60 years.

On 31 August, the Supreme Court ordered the removal of nearly 48,000 slum dwellings located in safety zones of the 140 km of railway tracks. Removal is to be done in a phased manner within three months. SC also cautioned against “interference, political or otherwise”. It said the stay order by lower courts “shall not be effective”.

However, on 14 September the Centre told the Supreme Court that there will be no eviction of slums near railway tracks in Delhi until Railways discusses it with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to find a solution within the next four weeks.

When the world is advocating social distancing norms, it has become a privilege that only a few people from the economically weaker sections of society can afford. Even as the pandemic rages on, residents of these slums are living in apprehension of becoming homeless along with other problems related to job losses.

Patriot visited Jal Vihar and Nizamuddin to know more about the problems being faced by the residents of the slums located here.

Puspa doing beadwork with the help of her son

Just behind the Barapullah nallah, in Madrasi colony, lies a slum of around 600-odd families, where houses are made so close that when the gate is opened, one can see what is happening in a neighbours’ house. The lanes are small alleys allowing only a single person to pass. Here lives 40-year-old Senthil, a frail-looking man who lost his job due to Covid. He used to work on a contractual basis with the Railways, changing blankets in the AC coaches.

Senthil came all the way from his village in Tamil Nadu to Delhi for work and married Anita who was born and lived in Delhi. The couple is unemployed now and living off their savings. “I heard about the judgement, I don’t know about others but I will go back home in case our jhuggis are removed, I don’t have any sources of income, my kids are not getting online classes,for what will I stay?” he says.

The SC judgement is a part of the Mehta vs Union of India case on which the apex court has been issuing directions since 1985 — originally a writ petition filed under Articles 21 and 32 of the Constitution by social activist MC Mehta. He sought closure of Shriram Industries as the company was involved in manufacture of hazardous substances and situated in a densely populated area of Kirti Nagar. It has become a case of pollution in and around Delhi, on which SC gave directions from time to time.

The judgement came after an affidavit filed by the Railways in response to Report No. 111 of Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) about Railway’s failure to comply with Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. In the affidavit, the Railways informed the court about the major hindrance in dealing with garbage, solid waste and plastic waste due to “predominant presence of jhuggi jhonpri clusters along 140-km route length of track in the region of National Capital Territory of Delhi”. Interestingly, the EPCA report doesn’t mention jhuggis in its report.

Senthil, a contract worker in railways who lost his job due to Covid-19 pandemic

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) showed disappointment with the judgement. “The order of the Court is a summary decision on the fate of tens of thousands of families — without any consideration of their right to live a life with basic human dignity and a roof over their head,” it said in a press release.

PUCL also mentioned the principle laid down by the Supreme Court about natural justice against arbitrariness in “Olga Tellis vs Bombay Municipal Corporation”.  The SC observed, “It is far too well settled to admit of any argument that the procedure prescribed by law for the deprivation of the right conferred by Article  21 must be fair, just and reasonable. Just as a mala fide act has  no existence in the eye of law, even so, unreasonableness vitiates  law and  procedure alike.  It  is therefore essential that the procedure prescribed by law for depriving a person of his fundamental right, must conform to the means of justice  and fair play.”

Now since slums were not party in the case, 11 slum dwellers have filed a separate plea in the court to join court proceedings to have their pleas heard.

Lubna Naaz, a lawyer, who filed the application on behalf of these 11 slum dwellers, told Hindustan Times , “At present, 11 slum dwellers have applied, but any order by the Court will affect residents of 48,000 slums. In the current circumstances, these people need compassion and a little help from the Court for their suitable rehabilitation.”

In the time of the Covid pandemic, jhuggis — a place where a lot of migrant labourers live — are already facing a lot of problems, from job loss to access to basic amenities.  Kids don’t have smart phones to attend the classes, some families don’t have ration cards in Delhi. Eviction may create another humanitarian crisis after the recent exodus of migrant labourers. This is the reason all the political parties and governments, despite the political slugfest, are trying to avoid such a scenario until proper rehabilitation of slum dwellers is ensured.

(Cover: Madrasi colony, a slum near Nizamuddin Railway Station Photos: Mayank Jain)