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'Stop evicting slum dwellers': ActionAid seminar stresses on land, housing rights

By Our Representative 

A high profile NGO convention “Where will the CityMaker stay?”, organised by Slum Jana Sangathane and ActionAid Association, held in Bengaluru, has concluded that there is an urgent need to stop all kinds of evictions from the slums across the country. In cases where habitation is in untenable land, resettlement has to be preceded by implementing rehabilitation policies built out of participatory processes involving the communities concerned, speakers insisted.
Participated by civil society leaders, policymakers and academicians from 11 States across India, the convention was told, there is a need for national frameworks on minimum standards of housing. However, since land and housing are state subjects, and every State and region within has different requirements, the State government’s proactive involvement in preparing people-centric legislation is paramount.
Community leaders, sharing their testimonies, said, entire slums have been created and evicted on account of infrastructure development in the name of city beautification. In case of evictions, people, when relocated, are often moved to the peripheries of the cities, far away from their place of livelihood and in housing which often lacks basic amenities.
Community leaders also shared testimonies on how all land in some cities is owned by a few corporate entities, which leads to issues with governance in a country where decentralisation of governance to the city level is already an idea not yet implemented.
However, not all hope seems lost, it was suggested. Testimonies of people’s movements and civil society organisations conducting awareness drives, capacity-building workshops, enumeration surveys and interfacing with government agencies suggested that such efforts have led to many states introducing policies and legislations to address the issues of land and housing rights for urban deprived communities.
Some such examples include the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act of 2017, the Punjab Slum Dwellers (Proprietary Rights) Act 2020 and the Karnataka Government Order No: HD 88 SBM of 2020 recognising land rights of slum dwellers. All these legislations and policies have identified the land rights of slum dwellers in urban areas of their respective states, albeit with some differences among them.
Land rights for the deprived urban community should be the means and not the end for ensuring a dignified life for deprived urban communities, it was pointed out. Access to essential services like dignified housing, water and sanitation facilities, electricity and other utility services should follow the right to urban land.
Land or housing should not be viewed only as an asset but also as an essential means, which leads to realising the right to a dignified living and livelihood, not just for the current generation but also for future generations. There is a need for grounded people’s action across the country to ensure that such rights can be realised for all.
Inaugurating the convention, B Venkatesh, Commissioner of the Karnataka Slum Development Board, claimed that more than one lakh slum dwellers across the state have been awarded land titles in the past two years. It was in November 2020 that the Government of Karnataka passed the order to grant land rights to slum dwellers, he said, adding, the Board is working on ensuring a suitable living environment for slum dwellers and emphasised the need to form slum dwellers collectives to advance their rights.
With urbanisation comes a big cohort of people pushed to live in slums across cities. Slum dwellers are not eyesores, but they are CityMakers
Deepak Sanan, former additional chief secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh, noted the pressing need to address the vast scale of the issues at hand and that the two-day convention was a vital endeavour in that direction.Shivaji Rao Dhavale, former chairperson of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, Nasik, spoke of the need to interlink government schemes to provide access to housing to marginalised communities.
Isaac Amrutha Raj, leader of Slum Jana Sangathane, the community-based organisation that has led communities in the assertion for urban land rights, spoke about the campaigns and collective efforts that led to securing of land titles and that more work is needed to advance the rights of deprived urban communities.
Nandini K, who leads ActionAid Association’s efforts in Karnataka, said, “Urbanisation is not by accident but a systematic plan of the state, akin to economic growth. However, with urbanisation also comes a big cohort of people who have been pushed to live in slums across the cities. Slum dwellers are not eyesores, but they are the CityMakers." 
She added, "We need to recognise the contribution of these CityMakers in running the cities. We have to replace the notion that policy making for the urban deprived communities is an act of benevolence of the state with the fact that it is a recognition of their rights.”

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