As the demolitions in Delhi and other parts of the country, questions over resettlement and rehabilitation are being raised by the victims and civil societies alike. With states having different rehabilitation policies, the question lingers over where thousands of displaced people go.

In Delhi, ahead of G20, various areas have been affected, the latest being Kasturba Nagar where Delhi Development Authority (DDA) took out a demolition drive on May 22. However, it was stopped midway as the Supreme Court gave the people seven days to vacate their homes.

The DDA wants to construct a road, a project which has been ongoing since 2021. Some of the houses were demolished earlier, and the locals claim that those people whose houses were demolished were settled in Dwarka. Their primary concern is why the same was not being done for them.

In another area of Delhi called Tughlaqabad, the residents are still trying to find a settlement with their houses being demolished on May 1. Thousands are said to have been displaced with no word from the authorities on resettlement and rehabilitation.

“We are still homeless with nowhere to go. No authority is listening to us even now,” Lakshman Singh, a resident whose house was demolished, told The Citizen.

According to the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) guidelines, states and Union territories should first collect data on all the slums listed in the 2011 census, and categorise them as either “tenable” or “untenable”.

The Union government defines untenable slums as those who live near major stormwater drains, railway lines, major transport alignments, and rivers or water bodies, among others. Tenable slums, on the other hand, ought to be examined for “technical” and “financial” viability.

The viable ones will then be included in the PMAY-Housing for All (HFA) scheme for redevelopment. However, for residents who have lost their houses, no survey has been done and there are no talks of rehabilitation.

In 2014, addressing the Delhi legislative Assembly, preceding the trust vote, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had put forward a seventeen-point agenda for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government.

The rehabilitation and resettlement of people living in unauthorised colonies and jhuggis was one of the issues mentioned by him. He said that unless the newly elected assembly finds a solution for them, their jhuggis will not be demolished.

Just like the other political parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has promised in-situ resettlement. This means that residents of jhuggi jhopri clusters (JJCs) will be given plots or flats at the same site where they are currently residing.

The residents would be relocated to transitory accommodation, flats would be constructed on the cleared land, and “eligible” residents would then take possession of flats allotted to them. Only if this process was not feasible, would permanent relocation be undertaken.

Also, under the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015, certain conditions have been prescribed for those who are residing in these jhuggies.

The relocation policy states that if Jhuggi-Jhopri [JJ] clusters which have come up before January 01, 2006, shall not be removed without rehabilitation; the cut-off date for eligibility for alternative accommodation for JJ dwellers living in these clusters would be February 14, 2015.

It also said that no new jhuggi will be allowed to come up.

According to the policy, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board [DUSIB] will plan and implement In-situ rehabilitation/re-development of JJ clusters wherever technically feasible; in other cases, DUSIB will resort to the nearest possible relocation.

Once JJ clusters are taken over by DUSIB or the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi [GNCTD], in-situ rehabilitation of all the clusters will be planned and implemented by DUSIB wherever feasible; in other cases, DUSIB or GNCTD will resort to the relocation of eligible JJ dwellers.

Speaking to The Citizen, Nirmal Gorana, Convener at Mazdur Awas Sangharsh Samiti, who has filed various petitions in the court said that rehabilitation as a policy exists but only in words.

“The JJ cluster rehabilitation and resettlement policy gives the cut off rate of 2014 and since then it has been eight years. In those eight years, people who came post 2014 have no way of finding homes. The cut-off date needs to be revived in at least five years,” he said.

The United Nation’s National Urban Policy (NUP) has clearly said that governments need to work on more inclusive urban settlement policies. A NUP provides the required coordination mechanism needed to promote equitable urban development.

“Implementing NUP could lead to enhanced local and national economic growth and ensure an equitable quality of life for all while protecting the environment. As a coordinating framework, NUP should not only consist of a list of corrective measures but also encourage proactive actions that foster economic, social and environmentally sensitive development,” the project description reads.

Gorana, meanwhile, said that by giving the people one room to live in is not rehabilitation and if NUP is to be followed then proper channels to be made on policy level.

“In order to harness urbanisation, mitigate its negative externalities and promote an “urban paradigm shift”, there is a need for a coordinated approach and clear policy directions. This is lacking in many countries, where several government departments are in charge of dealing with different aspects of the urbanisation challenge.

“Moreover, urbanisation is not considered a national development opportunity. In general, the overall understanding of cities in national development is very limited, and so is the appreciation of the structural transformations represented by the dynamics of growth in urban centres,” NUP’s project reads.

In a research paper by Abhay Pethe, Economics Board at Welingkar Institute of Management and Research; Rashmi Sharma, Ph.D. in Urban Economics from the Mumbai School of Economics & Public Policy at the University of Mumbai and Dhaval Desai Vice President at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai wrote about affordable housing issue in Mumbai.

“Affordability is not absolute but relative to the city development and income distribution stage. Every country, state, and city have their own unique geography and characteristics, and, as a result, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the affordable housing issue.

Therefore, international and intra-national comparisons of affordability based on any ‘universal’ definition of affordable housing are futile,” they write.

In 2008, the High-Level Task Force on Affordable Housing for All was set up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, which presented housing specifications for different income groups.

However, the first universal definition of “affordable housing” without classifying income groups was coined in 2012 by the Task Force.

In 2013, the Affordable Housing in Partnership scheme recommended different housing sizes for the economically-weaker sections (EWS) and lower-income group (LIG) beneficiaries.

According to the research paper, in 2017, the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage suggested mechanisms for creating a national database on urban housing shortage.

It proposed a countrywide evaluation of the existing data-related issues and methodologies adopted by various states to estimate housing shortages and projections, distribution of housing shortage across expenditure groups and tenure categories, and identification of the macro issues in determining urban housing shortages and their implications.

It aimed to formulate a national mechanism to strengthen the system of collating housing statistics and developing a national database.

The Rajiv Awas Yojana (2011) and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Urban (2015; PMAY) also contained certain specifications.

“For example, the PMAY’s Housing for All (Urban) scheme Guidelines devised an implementation methodology under four redevelopment verticals, giving different options to the beneficiaries, state governments and urban local bodies (ULB) for in situ slum redevelopment: affordable housing through credit-linked subsidy, affordable housing in partnership, and subsidy for beneficiary-led individual house construction,” the paper further reads.

However, the displacement of so many people has shown shoddy work when it comes to implementation of these schemes. With Delhi’s temperature reaching more than 40 degrees on a daily basis, these people are only left vulnerable. In scorching heat people have made makeshift tents in Tughlakabad.

Dr. Ronita Bardhan, Cambridge University Lecturer of Sustainability in the Built Environment, has pointed out the vulnerability people will face, especially in face of climate change.

“As the climate heats up, people will suffer even more discomfort in these poorly designed buildings. They’re being forced to buy AC units and if they don’t have the money to use them all day now, they will do as they get wealthier. This could have a big impact on India’s energy security but also global warming,” she is quoted by Tom Almeroth-Williams in his research paper - Fixing India’s Slum Rehabilitation Housing.

In Delhi, however, a rampant demolition ahead of G20 has left thousands homeless. The demolitions have not stopped, and have intensified.

But the question whether proper protocols are being followed ahead of these demolitions need to be focused on as well.

Section 5B of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 requires an estate officer to serve a minimum seven-day notice requiring an occupant to either demolish the unauthorised structure, or explain why it should not be demolished.

However, residents in Mehrauli as well as Tughlakabad have only claimed that they found notices pasted on their doors. “No one told us anything. We just woke up to find notices pasted on our doors, which asked us to vacate houses,” Shabnam at Tughlaqabad explained.

Similarly, Section 247 of the New Delhi Municipal Council Act, 1994 says no order of demolition shall be made unless the person has been given, by means of a notice served, “a reasonable opportunity of showing cause why such order shall not be made”.

While the court had ordered Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) to take possession of this, no proper rehabilitation has been provided. The Citizen tried to reach DUSIB officials who denied to speak on the matter.

On the other hand, section 368 of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 states that even if the commissioner orders a demolition, the building must be vacated within a period specified in the order, “not being less than thirty days from the date of the order”. The demolition must be undertaken “within six weeks after the expiration of that period”.

Even if a building is deemed “unfit for human habitation”, The Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act 1956 prescribes the same norms of a 30-day notice period and a time-bound demolition subsequent to that.

Again, none of it was followed in Delhi’s demolitions.

In the case of Ajay Maken, the Delhi High Court rightly observed that there should be efficient arrangements made by the authorities before such eviction proceedings take place.

It noted: “It is essential to first complete a survey and consult the JJ [jhuggi-jhopri] dwellers, there is, as of now, no imminent possibility of eviction of the JJ dwellers of Shakur Basti.

“If no in situ rehabilitation is feasible, then as and when the respondents are in a position to rehabilitate the dwellers of JJ Basti and jhuggis in Shakur Basti elsewhere, adequate time will be given to such dwellers to make arrangements to move to the relocation site.

“The right of the JJ dwellers to raise objections to the 2015 Policy and the Protocol and to seek legal redress at the appropriate stage, if the occasion so arises, is reserved.”

Meanwhile, in 2010, in a Delhi High Court judgement Sudama Singh, the court held that prior to carrying out any eviction, it was the duty of the state to conduct a survey of all persons facing evictions to check their eligibility under existing schemes for rehabilitation; and to carry out a rehabilitation exercise ‘in consultation with each one of them [persons at risk of an eviction] in a meaningful manner.’

However, the ruling of Sudama Singh was upheld twice by the Supreme Court. “Delhi’s rehabilitation policy is considered one of the most progressive policies in India. But the problem lies a little bit with the policy and majorly with the implementation,” Gorana added.

The right to shelter has been recognised as one of the facets of Article 21 under the Indian Constitution.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, where the court observed, “An equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because, no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation.

“Such deprivation would not only denude the life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make life impossible to live. The motive force which people desert their hearths and homes in the village is that struggle for survival, that is, the struggle for life.

“So unimpeachable is the evidence of the nexus between life and the means of livelihood. They have to eat to live: Only a handful can afford the luxury of living to eat.”

The Supreme Court has also observed in Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan and ors. that “it would, therefore, be of necessity that the policy of the Government in executing the policies of providing housing accommodation either to the rural poor or the urban poor, should be such that the lands allotted or houses constructed/plots allotted be in such a manner that all the sections of the society, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes and other poor are integrated as cohesive social structure.

“The expenditure should be met from the respective budgetary provisions allotted to their housing schemes in the respective proportion to be utilised. All of them would, therefore, live in one locality in an integrated social group so that social harmony, integrity, fraternity and amity would be fostered, religious and caste distinction would no longer remain a barrier for harmonised social intercourse and integration”.

And yet many not just in Delhi but all over the country are reeling under the shock of losing their homes. Despite numerous protests all authorities have turned a blind eye to the poor who still have nowhere to go.