New report highlights the unrelenting crisis of forced evictions, finds over 200,000 persons evicted in India in 2018. Over 114 houses demolished every day, 23 people evicted every hour.
On the eve of India’s General Elections, Housing and Land Rights Network India (HLRN) held a press conference in New Delhi today to release a new publication: Forced Evictions in India in 2018: An Unabating National Crisis
In the year 2018, data collected by HLRN’s National Eviction and Displacement Observatory reveals that government authorities, in both the central and state spheres, forcefully evicted, at a minimum, 202,233 people across urban and rural India including the demolition of over 41,730 houses. Using a conservative estimate, this translates as state authorities destroying over 114 houses every day, evicting about 554 people daily or 23 people every hour in 2018.
While these figures are extremely alarming, they only reflect cases known to HLRN. The actual number of people evicted/displaced in 2018, thus, is likely to be much higher. Moreover, HLRN has documented that about 11.3 million people live under the threat of eviction across the country.
Major findings from HLRN’s study on forced evictions in 2018 include the following:
1. Forced evictions of low-income communities and demolitions of their homes occurred across urban and rural areas – in cities, towns, and villages.
2. Forced evictions were carried out under a range of pretexts and various guises.
Though Indian authorities normally do not provide clear reasons for evictions, after analysing data on 218 reported cases of forced eviction in 2018, HLRN identified four broad categories of official reasoning for which government authorities forcibly evicted and displaced people from their homes and habitats:
a. “Slum-clearance/anti-encroachment/city-beautification” drives and interventions aimed at creating “slum-free” cities [47 per cent of affected persons/over 94,000 people];
b. Infrastructure and ostensible “development” projects, including road/highway construction, housing, and “smart city” projects [26 per cent of affected persons/over 52,200 people];
c. Environmental projects, forest protection, and wildlife conservation [20 per cent of affected persons/over 40,600 people]; and,
d. Disaster management [8 per cent of affected persons/over 15,200 people].
It is evident that most of the evictions in 2018 were not carried out only for “exceptional circumstances” as required by the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement.
Across India, homes of the urban poor continue to be considered “illegal encroachments” and, therefore, demolished, often with state impunity. The implementation of “slum-free” policies by demolishing homes of the poor not only violates their human rights but also goes against the premise of creating “slum-free” cities, which is to improve living conditions. Furthermore, the continued assumption of the state that “city beautification” implies removing the poor from certain areas of cities, highlights the deep-set discrimination against the country’s most-marginalized populations.
Infrastructure and ostensible “development” projects continued to displace the urban and rural poor, generally without due process or rehabilitation. Though many of these evictions are justified by the state as being carried out for “public purpose,” the term continues to be misused in the absence of a human rights-based definition and interpretation. Highway/road construction and road-widening projects displaced over 5,400 families in 2018, while over 2,400 people were evicted, ironically, to implement housing schemes.
While it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of “smart city”-related evictions, HLRN documented evictions in 34 of the 100 “smart cities” under the Smart Cities Mission and found that “smart city” projects resulted in over 17,700 people losing their homes.
Several incidents of forced eviction were carried out, purportedly, for the implementation of environmental projects and for wildlife conservation and forest protection. This resulted in the displacement of over 40,600 people across the country. In the guise of ‘disaster management’ under the Cooum River Restoration Project, the Government of Tamil Nadu demolished 3,181 houses in Chennai in 2018; a total of nearly 8,000 houses have been destroyed since 2016.
3. In nearly all reported cases, state authorities did not follow due process established by national and international standards.
In most instances, affected communities were not provided notice of the eviction or sufficient time to remove their belongings from their homes. Forced evictions occurred throughout all seasons of the year, including in extreme weather conditions.
HLRN’s analysis has found that the majority of evictions took place in the summer and winter. In many instances, authorities carried out evictions prior to school examinations, thereby greatly impeding children’s ability to study and appear in exams. Seventy per cent of the evictions in Chennai took place prior to children’s mid-year examinations. Families displaced from the Tansa Pipeline in Mumbai also witnessed violations of the right to education, as they were evicted in the mid-academic year.
4. The vast majority of affected persons were not resettled; where provided, the resettlement conditions are inadequate.
Research by HLRN indicates that the vast majority of those evicted have not been resettled by the state. Of the 173 sites for which information on resettlement is available, HLRN found that some form of resettlement/alternative housing was provided in only 53 (or 30 per cent) of the sites. Monetary compensation was given only in about 2 per cent of documented cases. Affected persons, thus, have had to make their own provisions for alternative housing or have been rendered homeless. For those who received some form of resettlement from the state, the sites they have been relocated to, as in Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai are remote and extremely inadequate.
The continued exclusion from housing is perpetuated by local governments using the flawed notions of “cut-off date” and “eligibility criteria,” as well as coercion in relocation of the urban poor. These devices contribute to an increase in the number of people being forced into insecure and inadequate living conditions, as well as causing a direct rise in homelessness.
5. All incidents of eviction resulted in multiple human rights violations.
The processes followed before, during, and after evictions have resulted in the violation of multiple human rights of affected persons, including their human rights to life, adequate housing, land, work/livelihood, health, food, water, sanitation, education, security of the person and home, information, participation, and freedom of movement and residence.
In a few cases, as in Delhi and Pune, people died in the aftermath of evictions, as a result of being forced to live out in the open in the cold. The use of force by police during evictions was reported in Manipur and Delhi.
6. Central and state government authorities violated national and international laws.
The documented incidents of forced eviction and home demolitions contravene the Constitution of India, as well as national and international laws. They violate international human rights standards, as repeatedly pointed out by various UN bodies, and also go against stated objectives of various policies, including the Housing for All–2022 scheme or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
7. The majority of people evicted in 2018 do not have access to justice and their right to effective remedy (i.e., reparation) has not been fulfilled.
The study by HLRN found that affected persons have limited recourse to relief and grievance redress mechanisms in instances of forced eviction. While access to justice and legal remedy is limited, in 2018, HLRN recorded at least 27 incidents of eviction under court orders. These orders were responsible for the forced eviction of over 52,000 people, including in Chandigarh, Chennai, Dehradun, Delhi, Gurugram, Jaipur, Mumbai, Patna, Prayagraj, and Srinagar, among other locations.
8. At least 11.3 million people across India are threatened with the risk of eviction and displacement.
Reasons for potential displacement range from infrastructure projects to forest protection; from restoration of water bodies to implementation of court orders; and, from removal of “encroachments” to tourism development.
Given the severity and magnitude of the national eviction and displacement crisis, and the fact that these incidents have resulted in gross human rights violations, HLRN proposes the following recommendations to the central and state governments:
1. Take immediate measures toward restitution of human rights of affected persons by providing reparation, including adequate rehabilitation and compensation; restoring homes, livelihoods, basic services, and education; and enabling return to original sites of residence, where possible.
2. Investigate incidents of forced eviction and take punitive action against those found guilty of violating the law and human rights.
3. Uphold and implement the human right to adequate housing, and adopt UN standards for “adequate housing” in all new housing, in situ (on site) upgrading, and redevelopment projects.
4. Recognize the right to land of the urban and rural poor, and provide security of tenure to people where they live, in order to protect them from arbitrary evictions and dispossession.
5. Invest sufficiently in low-cost housing, with a focus on social rental housing. Define “affordable housing” adequately. Prioritize participatory, human rights-based in situ upgrading of housing.
6. Impose a national moratorium on forced evictions and demolitions of homes in India, as also advised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.
7. Ensure that evicted, displaced, and homeless/landless persons/families are considered for priority housing and land allotment under all state and central housing schemes.
8. Ensure that the free, prior, and informed consent of all affected persons is taken before any infrastructure, redevelopment, upgrading or resettlement project is undertaken.
9. Carry out human rights-based “eviction impact assessments,” consistent with national and international law, prior to the implementation of any project. Collect disaggregated data to document specific impacts on women and children. Make information on all environmental/social/eviction impact assessments public.
10. Incorporate a human rights and social justice approach for the implementation of all national and state schemes, and prevent evictions and violations of human rights.
11. Revise the prevalent economic policy framework that permits the continued displacement of the country’s most marginalized, including under the guise of “public purpose.”
12. Implement court judgments upholding the right to housing and recommendations of UN human rights bodies, including recommendations made to India during its third Universal Periodic Review. Incorporate the relevant international guidelines into laws and policies, including the Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement.
While strongly condemning all acts of forced eviction, demolition of homes of the urban and rural poor, displacement, and forced relocation taking place across India, HLRN hopes that the recommendations presented above will be implemented, and that all political parties and organs of the state and non-state actors will take immediate steps toward halting the unconstitutional practice of forced evictions. They result in multiple human rights violations and long-term consequences detrimental for the entire nation.
On the eve of India’s General Elections, it is important to understand the significance of the rights to housing and land, especially for the most marginalized.
Housing and Land Rights Network hopes that its new reports will be useful for a wide range of actors, and will contribute toward the improvement of living conditions and the realization of the human right to adequate housing, which is the right of everyone to a safe and secure home and community, in which to live in safety, security, peace, and dignity.
Download Forced Evictions in India in 2018: An Unabating National Crisis
Download Adjudicating the Human Right to Adequate Housing: Analysis of Important Judgments from Indian High Courts
Housing and Land Rights Network - India