257,000 people evicted during pandemic, shows report by housing rights body
Close to 257,000 people were evicted from their homes in India during the coronavirus pandemic (March 2020-July 2021) by government authorities for various projects and removal of encroachments, according to a report released by the Housing and Land Rights Network on Thursday.
The report (Forced Evictions in India in 2020: A Grave Human Rights Crisis During the Pandemic) stated close to 173,000 people were evicted as 36,812 homes were demolished across India between January and December last year. Between March and December 2020, about 88,517 people were evicted.
In 2021, 169,000 people were evicted and 24,400 homes demolished across India till July 31.
Shivani Chaudhry, executive director, HLRN, said, “It is a cause of great concern that during this public health emergency, when the government should be ensuring a secure home for everyone to stay safe, it has been ruthlessly demolishing homes of low-income communities across India and increasing their risk of exposure to the deadly coronavirus.”
She added, “The majority of these evictions take place on grounds that the urban and rural poor are ‘illegal encroachers’ even when they have lived in an area for decades and contributed to its sustainable development.” HLRN members said that the numbers could be much higher, as the report only has data of cases they know of.
HLRN, a charitable organisation working on housing and land rights, set up the National Eviction and Displacement Observatory in 2015. According to HLRN, “On average, between 2017 and 2020, state authorities evicted 185,300 people annually in India.”
Eviction drives have been carried out for infrastructure and environment projects, encroachment removal and beautification projects, and disaster management. As per the report, 49% of evictions last year were due to environmental reasons (projects and forest and wildlife conservation).
Chaudhry said, “In 2020, we documented that 49% of people lost their homes for ostensible ‘environmental’ reasons, including from forestland. But forcibly evicting traditional forest dwellers from their lands not only violates the Forest Rights Act 2006, it is also a recipe for a human rights and ecological disaster. People living in forests know how best to protect them. The government needs to respect their knowledge and uphold their rights.”
HLRN reported that 17,888 homes have been demolished for environmental reasons.
In 73 eviction drives for encroachment removal and beautification, and 33 infrastructure projects across India, 7,689 and 8,658 families were evicted respectively in 2020.
What’s alarming is the fact that a vast majority of evicted people were rendered homeless because the government didn’t plan for their rehabilitation.
“An overwhelming majority of evicted people (87%) did not receive any rehabilitation from the government.They have had to find 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 are remote and devoid of adequate housing and essential civic and social infrastructure facilities,” a statement by HLRN said.
HLRN has listed 235 areas in India where there are around 16 million people “currently living under the threat of eviction from their homes and habitats”.
Forced eviction results “in an increase in poverty, destitution, homelessness, landlessness, and unemployment; loss of education, health, security and sometimes, lives too; hunger and malnutrition; and, mental, physical, and psychological distress”.
The report stated that of the total evictions in 2020, nearly 51% people were evicted during the pandemic due to court orders (Supreme Court, state high courts and the National Green Tribunal).
Highlighting the plight of millions of people who lost their homes during the pandemic, HLRN has recommended that there should be an immediate moratorium on eviction, adequate compensation should be provided to those who have been evicted, an eviction impact assessment should be carried out by government agencies etc.
HLRN members said that there is a need for the government to adopt the ‘housing first’ approach that prioritises the provision of permanent housing to homeless persons and families.
The organisation also recommends that the Centre bring in a law to provide secure land for housing and subsistence livelihoods to urban and rural landless households. “Develop and promulgate laws on the human rights to adequate housing and land, on the lines of the Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act 2017, and the Punjab Slum Dwellers (Proprietary Rights) Act 2020,” said the report.