Close to six lakh people, including at least 20,000 during the Covid-19 pandemic in a "business as usual" attitude, were thrown out of their own houses since 2017 in eviction drives by authorities across India, a new report has revealed.
On average, around 1.90 lakh people are evicted from their homes every year. At least 108 houses are demolished daily, about 519 people lose their homes every day and at least 22 people are evicted every hour, it said.
The ‘Forced Evictions in India in 2019: An Unrelenting National Crisis’ shows that last year alone, central and state government authorities demolished at least 22,250 homes, thereby forcefully evicting over 107,600 people across urban and rural India.
This takes the total number of houses demolished to 1.17 lakh houses and eviction of people to 5.68 lakh between 2017 and 2019, as per a conservative estimate, for "range of reasons and under various guises, including slum clearance, city beautification, infrastructure and environment projects, wildlife conservation, disaster management efforts and reasons such as political rallies.
In 2017, the report released by an NGO Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) said, 53,791 houses were demolished in which 2.58 lakh people were displaced while the next year saw 41,734 demolitions of houses and eviction of 2.02 lakh.
Adding more misery to the affected, more than two-thirds of those evicted in these drives are yet to be rehabilitated and for those who received "some form of resettlement", the sites they have been relocated to are remote and devoid of adequate housing and essential civic and social infrastructure facilities. The HLRN data showed only 26% of the documented cases of eviction in 2019 got some resettlement while it was 29% in 2018.
On the 45 eviction drives between March 16 and July 31 this year during the pandemic, the report goes on to say that it was likely that many of these evictions were carried out during the Covid-19 lockdown to "take advantage of the curfew-like conditions when the movement of affected persons was restricted and they did not have access to legal remedies".
It has found fault with the Centre for not paying attention to reducing the incidence of homelessness or to improving the quality of housing of the urban and rural poor during the pandemic or in its recovery plans. This has resulted in a ‘business as usual’ attitude, which sadly caused the forced eviction of over 20,000 people between 16 March and 31 July 2020," it said.
Such drives were conducted in Karnataka's Hubballi for road widening, Coimbatore for ‘Smart City’ project for the restoration of water bodies and Rewa for the beautification of a pond among others during the pandemic. In Telangana’s Siddipet, authorities demolished 30 homes of Dalit farmers in the middle of the night, without prior notice, for a reservoir project.
While acknowledging that many of these evictions are justified by the state as ‘public purpose’ projects, the report said that the term is still misused in the absence of a human rights-based definition and interpretation.
It also said the population that benefits from these ostensible ‘public purpose’ projects is always different from the one that pays the price for them, including through the loss of their homes, habitats, livelihoods, health, education, and security.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights defines forced eviction as “the permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families or communities from their homes or land, which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”