This blog is authored by Sasmitha Kumaravadivel a final year law student at Law Centre, University of Delhi.
“The slum is the measure of civilization.” – Jacob Riis
Slums are viewed as eyesores for big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. It is a well-known fact that these slums are fostered by the urban poor who are deprived of all the resources that even the rural poor have access to. Slums are categorized into recognized, unrecognized, temporary and pavement dwellers, of which the latter two are those who are living in abject poverty. Every time we hear the term ‘slum’ we tend to picture unhygienic streets, the prevalence of criminals and juvenile truants, people speaking in a disrespectful slang, unclean water and food, and thatched houses. Widespread myths, the government’s disregard for their livelihood and unplanned urbanization and modernization are the main reasons for this misery to perpetuate.
In numerous instances, the government and the judiciary have attempted to improve their lives by providing resettlements. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), in particular, has ordered for the rehabilitation of different slums from time to time which has not been fruitful because these decisions are either misinterpreted by the negligent government authorities or completely overlooked. Nonetheless, the majority of these attempts are seen as a blessing in disguise to the slum dwellers since they are relocated to places that are far away from their workplaces and schools. Most of these decisions were implemented using brutal force upon the inhabitants by destroying their homes. Development plans should be far-sighted and all-inclusive in order to reduce the inequity prevailing in society.
Demolition Superseding Rehabilitation
The State Governments and Union Territories have separate laws to regulate unauthorized colonies and hence vigilance on any reckless decisions in vacating these dwellings is scarcely present. The government authorities have been constantly demolishing slums without providing appropriate relocating facilities furthered by various legislations. For example, The Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 contains provisions that enable the local authorities to identify unauthorized dwellings and ensure the relocation of slum dwellers before demolishing their habitations. Despite such provisions, officials have misused the law to wade into the lives of these people and recklessly destroy their livelihood. A devastating incident that happened despite the pandemic best describes this action. On September 24, 2020, the Delhi Development Authority cited the abovementioned law and NGT’s decision on eradicating settlements on the banks of rivers (in this case, to clean up the river Yamuna) to forcefully remove hundreds of people from the slum dwellings in Dhobi Ghat, near Batla House’s Khalilullah Masjid.
Since December 2020, the Chennai Corporation, PWD and CRRT carried out a river cleanup drive in a slum spread over 1.5 km in Sathyavani Muthu Nagar. Around 2000 residences were destroyed overnight without proper notice to the inhabitants. It was alleged that the inhabitants refused to occupy houses allocated to them in Perumbakkam which was 30km away from their primary residences. The Centre’s Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Amendment Act, 2019 confers additional powers upon the estate officers to promptly evict the unauthorized occupations with much ease. To add fire to the fuel, the Supreme Court (SC) in M.C.Mehta v. Union of India ordered the removal of 48,000 jhuggies along 140km length of the railway track in NCT Delhi with an extended ban on any courts to stay the demolition. The court decided the above, after referring to the NGT’s decision in the year 2018 regarding the formation of a Special Task Force for evacuating these slums which were rendered ineffective due to political intervention. The court also misinterpreted Report no.111 of the EPCA that observed the nonchalance of the railways in solid waste management which were completely irrelevant to this decision.
Problems in Unplanned Rehabilitation
Slum -dwellers build a symbiotic relationship with their surroundings which caters to their day-to-day as well as long-term needs. Their school, work and social life are entangled with their location and hence rehabilitation should not neglect their livelihoods. Earlier horizontal slums are now being developed vertically in the urban fabric resulting in serious social, economic, legal and cultural consequences. Vertical slums alter the social space of the dwellers, increase their economic aspirations and causes a ‘rebound phenomenon’ meaning thereby, they go back to their original habitats or move to another slum by leaving these places to deteriorate.
Insufficient infrastructure, crushed livelihood, increasing crimes against women, alcoholism, targeted hotspots in drug and human trafficking are some of the most common law and order problems in slums even after their rehabilitation. Police personnel and the criminal justice system have a completely different approach towards handling them which augments their hatred towards the existing detachment. Children in these regions are forced to grow up in an angry environment, broken homes and extremely poor hygiene which further expedites their delinquency.
The proposed redevelopment in Dharavi, Mumbai has given rise to serious concerns amongst the people about the financial distress they would face on being relocated to faraway places that are already severely polluted. Similar incidents have already happened in Thideer Nagar and Ezhil Nagar in Chennai where the dwellers were allocated houses 15-30km away from their primary homes. Improper relocation leads to increased unemployment and this frustration lures the young and the old into committing crimes against humanity.
Efforts to Resolve
Court directives, government and non-government initiatives are sadly very few in number aiming to provide a sustainable life to the slum dwellers. The efforts to resolve the problems are seen as eyewash due to the government’s threshold on the number of beneficiaries eligible for rehabilitation. The requirement of documents to prove the dwellers’ lifetime in the slums is proving to be an unnecessary hindrance in their development. There are some innovative temporary solutions fashioned by different organizations.
In the year 2015, the NGT highlighted that Rs. 11.25 crore was allocated in the year 2003-04 to the authorities in Delhi to relocate the slums situated along the railway lines causing hindrance to effective waste management. But this action is still pending. The NGT penalized the AoL Foundation of Rs. 5 Crores even before conducting World Cultural Festival which would result in polluting the river Yamuna. Yet, it was criticized for practicing the classic act of ‘pay and pollute.’ One of the recent initiatives that caught our attention was the open-air Art Museum in Kannagi Nagar, Chennai, a slum resettlement zone. It is the first art district depicting the lives of the slum dwellers and has brought calm among the people to some extent due to the vibrant colors used in the murals. The entire community happily participated in creating the artistic streets, forgetting their melancholy for a few months. Unfortunately, there is enormous discrimination towards their community which the art cannot resolve.
It is disheartening to see the judgment of the SC about removing a huge population from a slum without any indication of rehabilitation. Whereas, in the precedents such as Olga Tellis & Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors. and Ajay Maken & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., the SC mandated the right of the slum dwellers to be heard at the time of the planned eviction and their right under Article 21 to be provided with adequate rehabilitation. All the organs of the government have been continuously failing this marginalized section of society. The stigma of originating in the slums are attached to these people and it haunts them everywhere they go. Children are ghettoized in schools, adults are not respected in their work places or are required to get no objection certificate (NOC) from the police officers, and in all the other public places, the slum dwellers are always being looked down upon.
In order to keep a check on the chaos, the government has to formulate a sensitive policy followed by central legislation to enable an alternate lifestyle for the rehabilitated people. Also, sensitizing the police and the judiciary is a prerequisite. Permanent housing structures with basic amenities would be a viable solution to control urban informality. The policies should be gender inclusive simultaneously providing a ground for the cohabitation of the existing and incoming migrants to effectively reduce law and order problems and improve the overall social fabric. Metropolitan cities are the hotspots of unbalanced development and a revolution could happen only with the combined efforts of all the pillars of the government. Slum rehabilitation should be seen as a social ladder rather than a mere shift from the current location and therefore, people should be better equipped to deal with changes that are primarily acceptable to them.