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Two lakh India's poor forcibly displaced in 2018, 11.3 lakh face eviction threat: Study

Counterview Desk
A new publication by a civil rights organization, Housing and Land Rights Network India (HLRN), "Forced Evictions in India in 2018: An Unabating National Crisis", has discussed different dimensions of India’s eviction and displacement crisis, even as highlighting violations of the human rights to adequate housing, work, health, education, and life, as a result of the demolition of homes by Central and state government agencies.
Major findings from HLRN’s study include forced evictions of low-income communities and demolitions of their homes occurred across urban and rural areas – in cities, towns, and villages. Forced evictions, it adds, were carried out for a range of reasons and under various guises.

Excerpts from an HLRN note:

In the year 2018, data collected by HLRN’s National Eviction and Displacement Observatory reveals that government authorities, at both the central and state levels, forcefully evicted, at a minimum, two lakh people across urban and rural India.
While these figures are extremely alarming, they only reflect cases known to HLRN. The actual number of people evicted/displaced in 2018, is thus likely to be much higher. Furthermore, HLRN has documented that about 11.3 million people live under the threat of eviction across the country.
In 2018, HLRN recorded the demolition of over 41,730 houses and the forced eviction of at least 202,233 people across India. Using a conservative estimate, this implies that state authorities destroyed over 114 houses every day, evicting about 554 people daily or 23 people every hour in 2018.
Though Indian authorities normally do not provide clear reasons for evictions, after analysing data on 218 reported cases of forced eviction in 2018, HLRN identified four broad categories for which people were forcibly evicted and displaced from their homes and habitats:
  1. “Slum-clearance/anti-encroachment/city-beautification” drives and interventions aimed at creating “slum-free” cities (47 per cent of affected persons/over 94,000 people);
  2. Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects, including road/highway construction, housing, and ‘smart city’ projects (26 per cent of affected persons/over 52,200 people);
  3. Environmental projects, forest protection, and wildlife conservation (20 per cent of affected persons/over 40,600 people); and,
  4. Disaster management (8 per cent of affected persons/over 15,200 people).
It is evident that most of the evictions in 2018 were not carried out for “exceptional circumstances” as required by the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement.
Across India, homes of the urban poor continue to be considered “illegal/encroachments” and demolished, often with state impunity. The implementation of “slum-free” policies by demolishing homes of the poor not only violates their human rights but also goes against the premise of creating “slum-free” cities, which is to improve living conditions.
Furthermore, the continued assumption of the state that “city beautification” implies removing the poor from certain areas of cities, highlights the deep-set discrimination against the country’s most marginalized populations.
Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects continued to displace the urban and rural poor, generally without due process or rehabilitation. Though many of these evictions are justified by the state as being carried out for the “public purpose,” the term continues to be misused in the absence of a human rights-based definition and interpretation.
Highway/road construction and road-widening projects displaced over 5,400 families in 2018, while over 2,400 people were evicted, ironically, to implement housing schemes. While it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of ‘smart city’-related evictions, HLRN documented evictions in 34 of the 100 ‘smart cities’ under the Smart Cities Mission and found that ‘smart city’ projects resulted in over 17,700 people losing their homes.
Several incidents of forced eviction were carried out, purportedly, for the implementation of environmental projects and for wildlife conservation and forest protection. This resulted in the displacement of over 40,600 people across the country.
In the guise of ‘disaster management’ under the Cooum River Restoration Project, the Government of Tamil Nadu demolished 3,181 houses in Chennai in 2018; a total of nearly 8,000 houses have been destroyed since 2016.
In nearly all reported cases, state authorities did not follow due process established by national and international standards. In most instances, affected communities were not provided notice of the eviction or sufficient time to remove their belongings from their homes. Forced evictions occurred throughout the year, including in extreme weather conditions. An analysis by HLRN found that the majority of evictions took place in the summer and winter. In many instances, authorities carried out evictions prior to school examinations, thereby greatly impeding children’s ability to study and appear in examinations.
Seventy per cent of the evictions in Chennai took place prior to children’s mid-year examinations. Families displaced from the Tansa Pipeline in Mumbai also witnessed violations of the right to education, as they were evicted in the mid-academic year.
The vast majority of affected persons were not resettled; where provided, resettlement is inadequate. Research by HLRN indicates that the vast majority of those evicted have not been resettled by the state. Of the 173 sites for which information on resettlement is available, HLRN found that some form of resettlement/alternative housing was provided in only 53 (or 30 per cent) of the sites.
Monetary compensation was given only in about 2 per cent of documented cases. Affected persons, thus, have had to make their own provisions for alternative housing or have been rendered homeless. For those who received some form of resettlement from the state, the sites they have been relocated to, as in Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai are remote and extremely inadequate.
The continued exclusion from housing by local governments using the flawed notions of ‘cut-off date’ and ‘eligibility criteria’ as well as the coerced relocation of the urban poor is contributing to an increase in the number of people being forced into insecure and inadequate living conditions as well as a direct rise in homelessness.
All incidents of eviction resulted in multiple human rights violations. The processes followed before, during, and after evictions have resulted in the violation of multiple human rights of affected persons, including their human rights to life, adequate housing, land, work/livelihood, health, food, water, sanitation, education, security of the person and home, information, participation, and freedom of movement and residence.
In a few cases, as in Delhi and Pune, people died in the aftermath of evictions, as a result of being forced to live out in the open in the cold. The use of force by police during evictions was reported in Manipur and Delhi.
Central and state government authorities violated national and international laws. The documented incidents of forced eviction and home demolitions contravene the Constitution of India as well as national and international laws.
They violate international human rights standards, as repeatedly pointed out by various UN bodies, and also go against stated objectives of various policies, including the Housing for All–2022 scheme or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
The majority of people evicted in 2018 do not have access to justice and their right to effective remedy has not been fulfilled.The study by HLRN found that affected persons have limited recourse to relief and grievance redress mechanisms in instances of forced eviction.

While access to justice and legal remedy is limited, in 2018, HLRN recorded at least 27 incidents of eviction from court orders. These orders were responsible for the forced eviction of over 52,000 people, including in Chandigarh, Chennai, Dehradun, Delhi, Gurugram, Jaipur, Mumbai, Patna, Prayagraj, and Srinagar, among other locations.
At least 11.3 million people across India are threatened with the risk of eviction and displacement. Reasons for potential displacement range from infrastructure projects to forest protection; from restoration of water bodies to implementation of court orders; and, from removal of “encroachments” to tourism development.
Reasons for potential displacement range from infrastructure projects to forest protection; from restoration of water bodies to implementation of court orders; and, from removal of “encroachments” to tourism development.
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