Rubble and Resilience: 2023 and Slum Evictions in Delhi

"Jahan Jhuggie vahan makkan" has become a ubiquitous phrase in Delhi's urban scene, which no slum resident believes, yet it is used numerous times by political parties around the state. Taking stock of the situation today reveals that, far from ensuring any in-situ rehabilitation to slum dwellers in Delhi as the manifestos of the political parties show, this year turned out to be one of the worst for the working-class slum dwellers in Delhi who regularly witnessed series of demolitions and in none of the aplenty demolitions the families bulldozed were rehabilitated.

According to the public hearing report prepared by various civil society organizations, demolitions in Delhi in 2023 “displaced more than 2,50,000 men, women, and children." It's crucial to reflect on the year as it comes to an end and consider how harsh the year was in terms of evictions.

G20 summit and the displacements in the city 

The G-20 conference in Delhi this year resulted in substantial changes to the urban landscape, particularly in terms of demolitions, which had a severe impact on slum people. As a result of the city's hosting of this worldwide event, slum sites in Delhi, including one in the famed Pragati Maidan area's Janta Camp, were demolished to make room for new construction and beautification initiatives. The slums, like Janta Camp, were constructed two to three decades ago. The majority of the residents were also working as laborers on neighboring construction sites, helping to build the structures and halls where the G-20 meeting was held. They had no idea that their own slums would be destroyed in the process.


Demolitions at Tughlaqabad

A few months ago, the demolition in Delhi’s Tughlaqabad resulted in 10,000 people being left without a roof of their own in this city. All of them were left on their own, with no provision for rehabilitation or alternative settlement. In this case, which I represented in the Delhi High Court, 3000 houses were razed. This was the biggest drive in Delhi, where the Archaeological Survey of India had staked claims for its land in the Tughlaqabad fort.

The residents were left to live on the rubble while they waited for the government’s assistance. Their case for rehabilitation is still pending in court. While the courts and agencies act with the utmost urgency to tear down and evict inhabitants, they show no urgency when it comes to the resident’s most basic right to shelter and respectable rehabilitation.

Demolitions at Yamuna floodplains

Moreover, about 1,000 eviction notices were delivered to Yamuna floodplain inhabitants, and nearly 150 homes were razed, affecting approximately 4,900 residents and leaving close to 700 homeless in Delhi this year.

In Moolchand, which is near the floodplains, about 4,900 people from 1,000 dwellings were served with eviction notices, and the demolitions ultimately left approximately 2,940 homeless.

While demolitions in Tughlakabad and Mehrauli occurred as a part of heritage walks planned for G20 delegates, the Yamuna Floodplains and Moolchand areas were near their movement routes. Despite existing for many years, both the Janta camp located at Pragati Maidan and a slum cluster at Dhaula Quan were demolished as these clusters were along the routes that many international delegates traversed during the summit.

Hyper-technical criteria adopted by the courts

When it comes to rehabilitation, the court uses a hyper-technical definition to rule out the residents’ eligibility to get any rehabilitation. The Delhi high court in recent times has relied on a narrow interpretation of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), Act 2010, which stated that those slum clusters which had not received government notification, were not eligible for rehabilitation — forgetting that these policies are designed for the most vulnerable people to help them exercise their right to shelter, which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The courts have not inquired into the selective criteria by which government agencies chose to recognize one cluster while ignoring the other, demonstrating the court's utter disregard for the poor in the slums.

No intention to rehabilitate

Looking at the media reports, it may appear that most of the Delhi lands are occupied by these ‘encroachers’. But the Census figures from 2011 tell us a different story. It says that only around 0.5% of Delhi’s total land area is occupied by slums, which are home to around 11% of the city’s residents.

The area of land available with DDA and DUSIB is 36,91,594 sq m and 18,71,659 sq m, respectively, totaling over 13,755 acres. These are areas of land that are not required for any kind of public use. The area is so large that more than 1.25 lakh slum dwellings may fit there under the current density requirements. It was the DDA’s failure that it could not fulfill the task of building at least four lakh housing units for the urban poor by utilizing slums and JJ colony approaches. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) project’s execution follows a similar trajectory. So far, only about 30,000 residential units have been approved and built in Delhi, making it one of the slowest in terms of the scheme’s execution.

The destruction of slum houses without providing alternative accommodation or fair compensation is a clear violation of the fundamental human right to adequate housing. When people are displaced without adequate alternatives, their right to live with dignity and security, without fear of arbitrary eviction is breached.

While 2023 has been the year with the most demolitions, with even the courts turning a blind eye, it is time to resolutely demand that no working-class household be demolished in Delhi without first providing them dignified rehabilitation.