6,600 people living in city ‘forcefully evicted’ since March 2020, says report
When the country was grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and people were required to stay home, 6,600 people in the city were rendered homeless due to forced evictions carried out by bodies such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), a report released by charitable organisation Housing and Land Rights Network said.
The “crisis” wasn’t confined just to Delhi: 257,000 people across the country were evicted from their homes by various government agencies between March 2020 and July 2021, says the report titled Forced Evictions in India in 2020: A Grave Human Rights Crisis During the Pandemic.
In Delhi, 1,375 families were evicted in demolition actions carried out by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the three municipal corporations to remove encroachments, said HLRN members. 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 consulted data of known cases. A DDA official said every action the land-owning agency takes is legitimate.
“Whenever encroachment on the Yamuna floodplains comes to our notice, we take appropriate action under the guidelines laid down by the National Green Tribunal,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
This point was echoed by BK Oberoi, standing committee chairman of South Delhi Municipal Corporation. “All demolition or eviction work is done under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, which empowers the corporations to take action if there is any encroachment on its land or property,” Oberoi said.
The report said in 2020, close to 173,000 people were evicted as 36,812 homes were demolished across India. Of them, 88,517 people were evicted in the pandemic months (March to December). In 2021, 169,000 people were evicted and 24,400 homes demolished across India till July 31.
“In 2020, we documented that 49% of the people (living in 17,888 homes) 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 the 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,” Chaudhary said.
In 2020, 7,689 people were evicted in 73 drives for encroachment removal and beautification, and 8,658 people were pushed out in 33 drives for infrastructure projects across India.
“An overwhelming majority of evicted people (87%) did not receive rehabilitation from the government, in the absence of which affected persons have had to make their own provisions or have been rendered homeless. For those who received resettlement, the sites they have been relocated to are remote and devoid of civic and social infrastructure,” read a statement by HLRN.