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Demolition drive: Why aren't high-end hotels, farmhouses treated same way as Khorigaon?

By Our Representative

A public hearing, sponsored by the civil rights group National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) to hear the affected citizens of Khorigaon, off Faridabad, Delhi NCR, has seen local people complaining how their houses are being demolished even as the entire area was converted into a prison through heavy police deployment.
Rekha, a social worker, living in Khori Gaon, along with Sitara Begum, Shabra, Nirmala Devi, Nazima, Anu Verma, Sameena, Razia, Manorma Gupta and Shiraz Mithun pointed out that their electricity and water supply has been cut off, mobile phone towers broken, and internet access curbed. They stressed that people had bought this land by selling their village land or taking loans. Hence they were not encroachers.
Those speaking up were beaten up, arrested and jailed by the police, they said. While the government made temporary arrangements for stay and food after a day for the residents at Radha Swamy Satsang, they complained, the location is very far from the demolition site, and, there wasn't enough space where they could have food. Worse, the authorities were not even allowing people to bring back food for their families.
Those who heard the public hearing as jury included environmentalists Ashish Kothari and Claude Alvares, social activist Anjali Bhardwaj, advocate Tripti Poddar, housing right activist, and academics Prof Amita Bhide of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and Prof Bittu KR from the Ashoka University, Sonipat.
The residents complained, under the economically weaker sections (EWS) rehabilitation plan announced by the Haryana government, Khorigaon residents are being asked to pay an impossible rent deposit of Rs 17,000 for their rehabilitation in Dabua. They asked, if the government destroyed our houses, which we paid for, why should we pay for the rehabilitation flats?
They wondered: Are we the ones who should be punished? Not those who settled us here? Not the governments who knew what was going on here? What happened to the slogans Jahan Jhuggi Wahi Makan, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and instructions to maintain social distancing? Do people know that we are here? Do they consider us citizens of India? Did the Supreme Court really give such orders to treat us so inhumanly, without food, water and houses?
Ishita Chatterjee, a PhD researcher from the University of Melbourne, said there is no proper demarcation between Delhi and Haryana border and the land mafia and government officials have exploited this confusion. Even after the court cases started in 2012, people continued to be provided with fake promises by government officials and politicians that they will not be evicted. Most of the residents from the newer part of Khorigaon have documents from Delhi and get their basic facilities from Delhi.
Hence, the majority of them will be ineligible for the rehabilitation scheme announced by the government. She further added that along with Khorigaon, many high-end developments are standing on forest land as per the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA). 
However, they have not been called forest encroachers. She also raised the point that this area had stopped being a forest when mining was allowed here from the 1950s. The idea of the forest only exists in the government’s imagination and on paper, but on the ground, there is no forest.
Dr Manju Menon, working at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), said that the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) is a colonial law that was used to regulate land use in certain areas to protect soil and water. In 2004, the Supreme Court held that the PLPA land would be considered "deemed forest" and construction activities will be illegal unless approved. Based on this order, the Forest Department of Haryana issued a notice for eviction in 2005. This was the beginning of calling the people of Khorigaon "forest encroachers".
There are many illegal elite constructions on PLPA lands in Haryana, and the forest department has a long list of them that was prepared in 2020. However, while these elite violations have not been touched, the Haryana government is displacing the people of Khorigaon to reclaim a relatively small area of forest land at a very high human cost.
Neelesh Kumar from the Basti Suraksha Manch informed the panel that Khorigaon had become a jail for the residents after the order of the Supreme Court of June 7, 2021. There were police all around, and they were constantly threatening the residents. People's water, electricity and other facilities were stopped. The police held marches through the streets of Khori Gaon regularly. Whoever raised their voice or whenever groups tried to gather were put in jail. Journalists were threatened many times.
Whenever people tried to organise a protest, processions and demonstrations, they were prevented from gathering or even exiting the basti. When they resorted to lathi-charge many of the residents and activists were injured. Due to helplessness, many people committed suicide. Demolition by bulldozers and JCB machines began on 14 July. In the rain and scorching sun, people's houses, temples, mosques, churches were demolished based on a resettlement policy on paper without conducting any ground survey.
Sumedha Pal from Newsclick informed the jury that even journalists were threatened and faced police brutality. They were asked to give written consent that they are responsible if the police do anything with them before proceeding with reporting. Even senior journalists were treated in the same manner. She ended by stressing that the state of freedom of the press in India has become deplorable and dangerous.
NAPM in a note said, "The presentations by the people brought forth the reality of exploitation by the land mafia and government agencies. The Apex Court also ignored the Covid situation and ensured no effective and timely alternative rehabilitation. The right to shelter, water, food are covered under basic Human Rights, and all citizens have the right to demand the state for these rights. Temporary shelter should have been immediately given to the displaced people along with written assurance for proper rehabilitation."

Jury's observations

On completion of the public hearing, each of the jury made several observations.
Social activist Anjali Bhardwaj: Even if the court has ordered eviction, this type of violence is unacceptable in any civilised society, that too during Covid and without rehabilitation, camp, livelihood, and media is barred from covering it. Both Delhi and Haryana governments are responsible, and we have to make them accountable.
Environmentalist Claude Alvares: How can the Supreme Court support all this? The SC order should not be misused in this way. This type of violence took place during the emergency period in 1975-76. We have gone backwards as a nation on the human rights front.
Prof Amita Bhide: Violence, brutality and land politics should be resisted and protested against. The first goal of the SDGs is to leave no one behind, but the government is hell-bent on pushing poor people into a deep pit. Residents are not begging by demanding housing; they have laboured, struggled to build their houses that were then demolished. Housing is their right. We must demand compensation and rehabilitation, keeping in mind the four issues of land, violence, development and housing.
Prof Bittu KR: I salute Khorigaon resident’s strength. What we have been witnessing is the repetition of the same pattern of settlement, displacement and faulty and inadequate rehabilitation. It is the government’s responsibility to provide houses for people. But they have forgotten this, and now people have to fight for their basic rights.
Advocate Tripti Poddar: My head hangs in shame hearing about what has been going on in a democratic country. There is a lot of confusion regarding accountability and the Haryana and Delhi governments' policies. The Supreme Court must be informed about how their orders are being implemented on the ground with brutality and violence. People who sold these plots, including government officials who accepted bribes, need to be made accountable.
Environmentalist Ashish Kothari: This case follows a trend across India of people being rendered 'illegal occupants' of land by either post-facto changes in land-use designations. The inequality of treatment is stark between the Khori gaon residents and the other high-end occupations. If reclaiming and regreening the Aravalli is indeed the objective, why remove only Khorigaon?

Report on the demolition drive

A report prepared on the public hearing regretted that the Supreme Court has concluded that this basti is an encroachment on the Aravalli forest land and so deemed it fit to order the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad to undertake evictions using force if needed and not to use the Covid pandemic as an excuse to delay the demolitions. 
Demolitions have been going on continuously since July 14. The monsoon has arrived, and we are still in a pandemic where most of the population is not vaccinated. Haryana was under partial lockdown till June 21, 2021. Thus we have all the ingredients of a huge human rights disaster, one that could easily be averted, it insisted.
The report, which provides the historical context of the settlement, details about the legal cases and the Supreme Court’s orders, a description of the multiple demolitions that have taken place, their impact on the settlement’s residents and the human rights violations that have emerged.
Main recommendations of the report are:
  1. The cruelty and violence with which the forced eviction and demolition is being conducted be halted immediately.
  2. Adequate compensation should be provided for all losses, deaths and injuries.
  3. Before resorting to further eviction/demolition, a survey must record the number of families and their family members, provide temporary accommodation to those whose houses were destroyed, and provide documentation to all regarding rehabilitation within a given time frame. 
  4. The rehabilitation plan should keep in mind the basic human facilities of water, electricity, sanitation, access to health care, education and transport. 
  5. All evictees and residents should be enrolled in welfare schemes and policies for the vulnerable groups. 
  6. There should be a complete moratorium on evictions and demolitions during the pandemic. 
  7. The other high-end developments like hotels and farmhouses on PLPA land should be treated the same way as Khorigaon; they should be demolished simultaneously. If the high-end developments are not considered encroachers, then the urban poor’s settlement should also not be destroyed; instead, Khori Gaon should be allowed to exist in its current location.
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Click here for the report

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