Homeless don’t live, they merely exist: HC
Remarking that the homeless don’t live but merely exist, the Delhi high court directed the relocation of five slum dwellers who were shifted from one slum site to another to facilitate the expansion of the New Delhi railway station.
The order comes on a petition by the slum dwellers, who had challenged their eviction from Lahori Gate, for the expansion of the New Delhi railway station, from nine platforms to 16.
Delivering the order on Monday (July 4), justice C Hari Shankar said the petitioner slum dwellers would be entitled to relocation if they produce correct documentary evidence that before moving to the second slum colony on the Lahori Gate side in 2003, they lived in the original slum colony, i.e. Shahid Basti jhuggi in Nabi Karim, from a date prior to November 30, 1998, then they would be entitled to an alternative accommodation under the relocation policy of the ministry of housing and urban affairs.
“The homeless, who people the pavements, the footpaths, and those inaccessible nooks and crannies of the city from where the teeming multitudes prefer to avert their eyes, live on the fringes of existence. Indeed, they do not live, but merely exist; for life, with its myriad complexions and contours, as envisaged by Article 21 of our Constitution, is unknown to them,” the court said.
The court also held that the petitioners would be allotted alternative accommodation, in accordance with the relocation policy as expeditiously as possible, and not later than six months from the date of production of the requisite documents before the Railways.
Stating that slum dwellers are “hounded by poverty and penury” and do not stay there out of choice, the judge asserted that law, with all its legalese, is worth tinsel, if the underprivileged cannot get justice and courts should be sensitive when the underprivileged knock on the doors of justice.
“The court is required to remain alive to the fact that such litigants do not have access to exhaustive legal resources…As one of the three coequal wings of the government, albeit functioning independent of, and uninfluenced by, the other two, the judiciary is required to remain as sensitive…At the end of the day, our preambular goal is not law, but justice. Law is but the instrument, the via media, as it were, to attain the ultimate goal of justice, and law which cannot aspire to justice is, therefore, not worth administering,” the court said in a 32-page judgment.
“Even a bare attempt at imagining how they live is, for us, peering out from our gilt-edged cocoons, cathartic. And so we prefer not to do so; as a result, these denizens of the dark continue to eke out their existence, not day by day, but often hour by hour, if not minute by minute,” justice Shankar said.
The petitioners claimed to have been residing in the Shahid Basti jhuggi (slum) cluster since the 1980s. They claimed that their names were entered in the electoral register and they were exercising their voting rights. They also claimed to be in possession of ration cards and other documents establishing their claim that, since the 1980s, they had been residing in the Shahid Basti slum colony.
In 2002-2003, the Railways, which was seeking to convert the New Delhi Railway Station into a “world-classfacility and in order to increase the number of platforms from nine to 16, desired to acquire the land on which the petitioners were situated.
The petitioners argued that they were shifted to another location on the opposite side of the tracks, and set up a slum colony there.
The court held that if a resident of the Lahori Gate slum had been a jhuggi dweller, albeit on the other side of the tracks, from a period prior to the cutoff date (November 30, 1998), it would be unjust, unfair and contrary to the avowed purpose and objective of the relocation policy to deny him the benefit or relocation.
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