Bombay High Court helpless in providing relief to slumdweller: Lack of a legislation or a law

slum-mainBy Medha Patkar*

The Bombay High Court in the matter of 13 days old girl child, resident of a slum at Yari Road, in its order has expressed helplessness to provide any relief to the homeless. The Court has also cited its limitation in its jurisdiction to provide any relief to the homeless people.

A slum named Kavthekhadi at Yari road, Mumbai was demolished on 22nd March, 2016. The youngest member among those evicted was a 5 days old girl child. Evicted residents of this slum approached theGhar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) for help. The GBGBA with the help of Advocate Mathew J Nedumpara, took this matter to the Court. Therefore, a Writ Petition was filed in the name of the 5 days old girl child through her mother. The child had become 13 days old at the time of filing of the petition.

This informal settlement was around mangrove areas and the land is owned by the revenue department of Maharashtra government. The Court has taken cognizance of this fact and passed an order saying that human habitation in such areas would be dangerous to the persons living there as well as to the environment. But at the same time the Court has acknowledged the plight of the now homeless petitioner and other homeless persons like her. The Court, while expressing its helplessness to provide any relief to the petitioner said that “to   extend   to   such   persons   any benefit or any assistance, there has to be a legislation or law in the field”.

Court added that “It is one thing to be sympathetic and consider   such   pleas,   as   are   raised   by   Mr.   Nedumpara, on a humanitarian basis. It is quite another to grant any relief based on  them  and  on  the  touchstone of law. Eventually, we render justice   in   accordance   with   law   and   there   are, therefore, restraints   and   limits   on   our jurisdiction also”.

In conclusion, the Court has asked the State to take into consideration the plight of the homeless and provide them night shelter and other welfare schemes.

At present there are only seven night shelters in the whole of the city of Mumbai which came into existence long back and not with enough capacity.  As per the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) run by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, there must be one night shelter per one lakh population. As per this, at least 125 night shelters are required in Mumbai in accordance with 2011 census. The existing DP reserves only 48 night shelters in the city which too are not built.

As far as the central housing scheme the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is concerned; it comes under ‘Housing For All by 2022’, but no progress is found in implement of this scheme till date.

So, the poorest section of the city’s population is again facing the vulnerability in terms of security of shelter, leaving aside the provision of the basic amenities to the poor in the city living in informal settlements/slums.

These settlements have no water facility giving way to mafias to regulate water supply. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is not complying with the order of the Bombay High Court which directed the Corporation to provide water to all the colonies whether authorized or unauthorized. Similarly, there is either no provision or least provision of toilets in these settlements. The MCGM is not respecting the guidelines set under the ‘Swachha Bharat Abhiyan’ and is behaving exclusionary in providing the services under the Abhiyan.

Recently, citizens were deemed to be punished if found to be defecating in open through the ward offices of MCGM, in order to discourage them to stop this practice. There is however neither concern nor any practical planning to construct maximum number of toilet blocks to discourage  defecation in the open.

As far as education is concerned, MCGM laggs behind in providing school services in accordance with the Right To Education Act, 2010. This is forcing poor families to send their children to private schools, whose fees consumes considerable amount of their income.

The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, handed over a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra during the massive rally by the urban poor of the city on 5th April, 2016. In the memorandum it warned the state government of an intense struggle if the state government does not stop evicting the poor which deprive  them of their Right to Shelter which a part and parcel of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution. GBGBA will soon take  the agitation to its next phase if the plight of the poor continues to be ignored.

*Convener, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM). Inputs by Neha Jaimati, Uday Mohite,  Anwari Shaikh, Shyam Sonar and Bilal Khan

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