By Medha Patkar*
In the span of less than a year, the Mangrove Cell of Maharashtra Forest Department has evicted more than 4000 families in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai without providing for any rehabilitation. The Forest Department’s actions are rendering more and more families in Mumbai homeless. Around 700 families will be evicted after 23rd April in Cheeta Camp and 800 in Bheemchhaya, Vikroli, Kannamwar Nagar in the first week of May.
The Bombay High Court has passed an order regarding protection of mangroves in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai in the year 2005. The Court ordered to declare mangrove areas and the area in the buffer zone of 50m as ‘protected forests’, disallowing all construction activities in such areas. Maharashtra Govt. decided to constitute all such lands as ‘reserved forests’ in the year 2013. Ten years after passing the order, the Forest Dept. suddenly started evicting slums near the mangrove areas. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, contains a full procedure of law about the settlement of rights of the people living in forest areas. The Act stipulates that settlement must be completed prior to constituting any land as ‘reserved forest.’ This procedure has not been completed yet.
Eviction causes serious deprivation to the lives of affected families. The education of school going children is severely affected, old persons find it difficult to find assistance during the time of crisis. Women have to compromise with their privacy. Eviction is also followed by serious diseases due to unavailability of sanitation facilities, proper food and because people are forced to live in the open without proper shelter. The act of eviction further marginalizes poor people and thereby increases inequality within society.
The Supreme Court of India has at various occasions specified ‘adequate housing’ as a human right. For instance in the case of Chameli Singh and Others vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996), the Court has given a clear understanding of this right. It states as follows:
“Shelter for a human being, therefore, is not a mere protection of his life and limb. It is home where he has opportunities to grow physically, intellectually and spiritually. Right to shelter, therefore, includes adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation and other civic amenities like roads etc. so as to have easy access to his daily avocation. The right to shelter, therefore, does not mean a mere right to a roof over one’s head but right to all the infrastructure necessary to enable them to live and develop as a human being. Right to shelter when used as an essential requisite to the right to live should be deemed to have been guaranteed as a fundamental right… Want of decent residence therefore frustrates the very object of the constitutional animation of right to equality, economic justice, fundamental right to residence, dignity of person and right to live itself.”
The Government of India has also ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states under Article 25.1 that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
The Government of India was also a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 11.1 of the Covenant read as follows:
“The State Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”
The slums are not created with a sole aim to encroach upon a piece of land. Slums are the outcome of the State’s failure to address the issues of livelihood, availability of equal opportunity, housing and so on. Instead of intervening and solving the existing problems, the Government attempts to brand slums as colonies of criminals and mafias while forgetting the hard work of the labourers from the same slums. These labourers have helped the citizens of the same city and the Government by providing their services through constructing roads, tall towers, providing services as taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, fruits and vegetable sellers, carpenters, electricians, painters, domestic helpers and innumerous other service in various forms.
Will the government ever brand the full colony where the underworld don lives as ‘criminal’ and demolish the whole area? The Government would never do that. Similarly, the mafias growing in slums by controlling the supply of water, electricity and availability of land in the absence of any provision for these services from the government, must be dealt with appropriately, through police action. The innocent, poor and hard working slum dwellers must be spared accusations of ‘criminality’ and provided all the basic amenities that accompany the right to housing. How justifiable it is to evict the same slum residents whose votes enable the Maharashtra Government to stay in power?
The Mangrove Cell’s objective to conserve and rejuvenate the depleting cover of the mangrove areas along the coastline of Maharashtra State is highly appreciated and welcomed. But the government, at the same time, must also think about the housing rights of the families under threat of eviction by the Mangrove Cell. Eviction without rehabilitation is illegal because this eviction leads to severe destitution for already poor citizens of this city.
Jaya Kharat, a resident of Bheemchhaya slum in Vikroli and a mother of three children, who works in the Dattak Vasti Yojana, collecting waste from the slum areas, is worried her children’s education: “If demolition happens, all my three children will not be able to attend school since we will be thrown on road with no shelter and food”.
Chikuwadi is a slum in Malvani which was demolished in February this year by the Mangrove Cell. Around 200 of the slum residents who were evicted are now rebuilding houses again in the absence of any other option, but live in fear of a second eviction. “People are in trauma after they heard that the Forest Dept. would build a wall around their slum and evict them again,” says Vilas Raipure, a resident of Chikuwadi slum. “Our MP Mr. Gopal Shetty has helped us by providing mobile toilets but that is also not enough. So we have decided to leave this facility for women but all the male residents are then again left to defecate in open,” he adds.
Faced an eviction already in May last year, Shabina Shaikh, aged 33 who is a resident of Cheeta Camp says, “After the demolition, we are living in kacha house in the fear of eviction, my wounds are still recovering and now again a notice has come, that states demolition. Now I am helpless and weak, I have faced it last year and I have no strength to face it again”.
We appeal the Government of India as well as Government of Maharashtra to save the families in the above mentioned slums and ensure them their human right to adequate housing in compliance with various judgments of the Supreme Court of India. The Government of India and Maharashtra must also oblige to the agreement made under the Universal Declaration of Human Right, 1948, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966. We also appeal to Prime Minister Modi to fulfill the promises contained in his ‘Housing For All by 2022’ Campaign by ensuring protection of the already housed poor families in Cheeta Camp, Trombay and Bheemchhaya, Vikroli Kannamwar Nagar, Mumbai.
*Ghar Bachao – Ghar Banao Andolan. Prepared in association with Rehmat, Uday Mohite, Antakala and Bilal Khan