Explained: SC order on demolition of slums along rail tracks in Delhi, and rules of rehabilitation

The issue of rehabilitating jhuggi dwellers is fraught with conflict, as the problems associated with multiplicity of authority in Delhi also mars this process.Most of the land is under the Centre through the Delhi Development Authority. Railway owns a significant amount as well.

The Delhi government and the Northern Railway have been trying to come up with a plan to demolish 48,000 jhuggis that have been built alongside 140 km of railway tracks in the city, and to rehabilitate the residents of these dwellings. The order for demolition was passed by the Supreme Court on August 31, which also said that no other court will grant a stay in the matter. With former Minister of State, Urban Development, Ajay Maken appealing the order, Delhi government calling the direction illegal and the Centre submitting in court that the demolition will not take place before a plan for rehabilitation is submitted, the matter was adjourned for four weeks.

What does the court order say and what does it mean?

The writ petition case being heard in the Supreme Court, in which the August 31 order to remove the jhuggis was passed, was filed in 1985 by lawyer MC Mehta over air pollution in Delhi. Several other petitions and applications were then tagged along with the original petition and the scope of the petition widened to include vehicular pollution, garbage disposal, air quality etc.

In the present instance, the court was hearing a matter related to dumping garbage along railway tracks, in which the SC-mandated body – Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority – filed a report and Northern Railway and civic administration were parties in the case.

The court said that affidavits filed by Northern Railway say that there were jhuggis along 140 kilometres of railway track in the state. “Out of this, 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,” the court said, ordering that a comprehensive plan for removal of jhuggis be executed in a phased manner.

“The encroachments which are there in the safety zones should 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 said.

The removal will result in lakhs of people ending up on the road during the pandemic, if the Centre (Northern Railway) and the state (Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board) do not arrive upon a plan for relocation and rehabilitation of these people soon. The court will hear the matter next in October, by which time the Delhi government and Northern Railway should reach an agreement about the best way to rehabilitate the dwellers.

What are the existing rules on jhuggi cluster rehabilitation?

In a letter to the Northern Railway, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) said that the move to demolish jhuggis without providing alternate arrangements is illegal as the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second Act, 2011 gives protection against demolition without rehabilitation to jhuggi dwellers. It also quotes the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board Act 2010, under which the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy was notified in 2017.

As part of the policy, jhuggi clusters which have come up before January 2015 shall not be demolished without providing alternate housing. After this cut-off date, jhuggis that come up will be demolished without providing alternate housing. The preferred rehabilitation scheme, as part of the policy, is in-situ, wherein slum clusters are demolished, permanent housing is built on the same land or within a 5 kilometre radius, and the slum dwellers shifted back once the houses are constructed. DUSIB will take land from the land owning agency and build houses. The policy says that of the land freed after slum clusters are removed, 60 per cent has to be used for in-situ development to rehabilitate slum dwellers while the rest can be used as a resource.

In cases when the basti is in the railway safety zone, in-situ development can be forgone and relocation offered. This clause also applied to slums that are to be demolished under court orders if the particular piece of land is required for a specific public project. The protocol includes surveys to determine eligibility.

What is the Shakur Basti judgment, which the state government and Congress leader Ajay Maken have also cited to try and stop demolition without rehabilitation?

In 2015, Congress leader Ajay Maken had gone to court against demolition of over 1,000 jhuggis along the railway track in Shakur Basti. In its judgment in March 2019, the Delhi High Court said that once a jhuggi was eligible for rehabilitation, residents should not be seen as illegal encroachers.

“The right to housing is a bundle of rights not limited to bare shelter over one’s head. It includes the right to livelihood, right to health, right to education and right to food, including right to clean drinking water, sewerage and transport facilities,” it said.

“The law explained by the Supreme Court in several of its decisions and the decision in Sudama Singh discourages a narrow view of the dweller in a JJ (jhuggi jhopdi) basti or jhuggi as an illegal occupant without rights. They acknowledge that the right to adequate housing is a right to several facets that preserve the capability of a person to enjoy the freedom to live in the city. They recognise such persons as rights bearers whose full panoply of constitutional guarantees require recognition, protection and enforcement. Once a JJ basti/cluster is eligible for rehabilitation, the agencies should cease viewing the JJ dwellers therein as ‘illegal encroachers,” the bench of justice S Muralidhar and justice Vibhu Bakhru had said.

The HC also said that there was no possibility of eviction until a survey is conducted, arrangements for rehabilitation are made and time is given to shift to the new site. This principle was to be applied in the case of all evictions.

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Whose responsibility is rehabilitation?

The issue of rehabilitating jhuggi dwellers is fraught with conflict, as the problems associated with multiplicity of authority in Delhi also mars this process.Most of the land is under the Centre through the Delhi Development Authority. Railway owns a significant amount as well. DUSIB, which is the main agency for rehabilitation of slum clusters, falls under the Delhi government, while municipal corporations that are supposed to check encroachment and carry out demolition in some cases with the police, fall under the Centre.

As per the rehabilitation policy, if the slum cluster is on the central government/agency land, the agency can rehabilitate the dwellers itself or reach out to DUSIB. If they reach out to DUSIB, they will have to pay for the cost of construction, cost of land (on institutional rates) and the cost of relocation. DUSIB said that the cost of relocation will be between Rs 7.55 lakh and Rs 11.30 lakh per house depending on the location.

Railway and DUSIB now have to decide which of these models it will follow before it implements the Supreme Court’s order to demolish the jhuggis.

DUSIB has told Northern Railway that it has 29,257 constructed flats but these will only be available by March next year.

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