Delhi HC orders urgent relief of food, shelter, healthcare at DDA demolition site

The High Court of Delhi on March 25, 2011, ordered emergency relief of food, water, shelter, and health care services to be provided to 5,000 residents of Gayatri Colony (West Patel Nagar) who were rendered homeless by Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) large-scale demolition drive. With five bulldozers and hundreds of armed Delhi police officers, the DDA through its supervisors, including Mr. Thareja, authorized an unlawful demolition on 23 and 24 March. The demolition occurred without any due process whatsoever. No notice was given to the residents, and there do not appear to be any meaningful eviction and rehabilitation plans. Thousands of residents, many of whom have been living in the area for over 20 years, protested peacefully in solidarity with members from Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) and National Campaign for Dalits and Human Rights. Indu Prakash Singh, Technical Advisor, IGSSS, who was present during the demolition, stated, “the government has not given any consideration to the serious long-term impacts of the evictions on people - on the education of children, the health of women, and the housing and livelihoods of families. The government must be considerate and responsible, and cannot act so brazenly in violation of the human rights of the people.” Following a petition filed by Advocate Jayshree Satpute of the Human Rights Law Network on 24 March, Justice Muralidhar ordered a stay of the demolition and a full hearing on the matter for 25 March . During the hearing, the Court emphasized DDA’s clear obligations to undertake a comprehensive survey of the residents prior to demolition. The survey had to include information on the status of each person whose jhuggi was demolished. Unable to furnish a comprehensive survey to the Court, DDA’s counsel agreed to submit a detailed report and survey carried out prior to the demolition, if any, within one week’s time. The Court underscored the “bundle of rights” of each person that the government must consider when implementing demolition and eviction plans, including the fundamental rights to education, health, and adequate housing. The DDA was requested to “indicate whether a plan of action was drawn to ensure that the right of education of children would continue undisturbed,” and to “explain how Anganwadi Centres functioning in the jhuggies could be demolished without making alternative arrangements?” Miloon Kothari, former UN Special Rapporteur and Director, Housing and Land Rights Network, noted how the “brutal demolition is a flagrant violation of India's national and international human rights commitments. Such arbitrary actions, consistently carried out with impunity by the government, are a severe blow to India's credibility as a democratic nation. Were it not for the vigilant actions of civil society groups and the timely intervention of the High Court, many thousands more would have lost their homes.” The Court ordered the DDA Commissioner to “constitute a team of three senior officials who will immediately ensure that basic facilities like drinking water, sanitation, temporary shelter and health services are provided.” The matter will be heard again on April 27, 2011, with the petition seeking reparations for the egregious violations of the residents’ human rights, and investigations into what led the government to carry out such undemocratic and unlawful action. “The most urgent matter is that the residents, particularly women and children receive access to food, water, and shelter. The next step is to ensure that the Delhi government lives up to its constitutional promise and treats its citizens humanely and in accordance with the law,” says Jayshree Satpute of HRLN.