By Abhishek Jha:
The demolition of the shanties in Shakur Basti, their numbers varying from five hundred to over thousand across reports, has led to a lot of political sloganeering. But the Railways had conducted such drives in the past too and little seems to have been done since then to ensure the rehabilitation of people residing in the JJ clusters that is mandated by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) Act of 2010.
One such demolition was carried out in December last year in Wazirpur, which left the people living out in the cold, and another at the Mansarovar Park Metro line in December 2013. The Railways, as they have done in the case of the demolition in Shakur Basti, have claimed in the past too that they issued notifications to the people for eviction and were, in fact, late in the demolition due to pressure from local politicians. The arrogance of the Railways here is, unfortunately, written into the DUSIB Act.
The Act gives the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board powers “to prepare a scheme for the removal of any jhuggi jhopri basti and for resettlement of the residents” as well as to conduct a survey to enable it to perform its duties under the Act. However, these powers are not to derogate “the power of the Central Government to remove jhuggis, if required” according to the Act. The legislators should then have kept in mind whether such laws could lead to what Justice Katju today has termed a violation of Article 21 itself.
If the idea was to work within the framework of the law, the DUSIB, whose Chairperson is the Chief Minister, should have been preparing a scheme since the enactment of the Act and conducting resettlement throughout and rehabilitated people who are forced to live under inhuman conditions (by socio-economic factors) and then made homeless by law.
In the case of Shakur Basti, however, it seems the Railways may have stepped the line. In a meeting dated 22nd September this year, the DUSIB had decided that “the cut-off date of eligibility for rehabilitation and relocation would be 14.02.2015 (this is in supersession of the earlier cut-off date of 04.06.2009 as notified in the guidelines of 2013).” Unless 500 or thousand shanties came up within one month (the Railways claim to have given a first eviction notice in March), the people living in Shakur Basti were eligible for rehabilitation. There appears to be little truth in the Railways’ claim that the demolished structures were fresh.
An Outlook report says that the Chief Minister had even written to the Railways Minister specifically asking him “to get the matter regarding rehabilitation of JJ dwellers squatting in the safety zone (15 metres on either sides of rail track) examined on priority” and assuring him of providing flats constructed under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNURUM) for relocation.
That the Railways could demolish shanties before without facing any heat shows that there is also a legislative matter here that needs resolution, although the AAP government has been asserting that the survey was mandatory before demolition. Whether the said explanation of a clause needs to be expunged or amended is a matter that the government must look into. Mr. Kejriwal’s anger against the Railways is understandable but whether he will be able to hold them accountable is up to him.