Prevent forced evictions in Chennai and resultant violations of human rights of the urban poor

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Text of the online petition  addressed to Edappadi K. Palaniswami, Chief Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu, floated by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), New Delhi, and the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC), Chennai:

We are writing to express our concerns regarding forced evictions in Chennai under the guise of ‘restoration of water bodies and disaster management.’ The two most recent incidents of forced eviction on 9 September and 15 September 2017 stand in violation of India’s international and national human rights obligations and commitments.

In response to a 2015 order of the Madras High Court to take “expeditious steps for early removal of encroachments by construction of alternative tenements,” the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), Public Works Department (PWD), and Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), as part of the Cooum River Eco-Restoration Project of the Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) have been undertaking joint department surveys and started the eviction process in November 2016, which recommenced in September 2017.

The state, however, has only applied the court’s order to low-income settlements and homes of the urban poor along the Couum River, not to other commercial establishments that could also be considered ‘encroachments.’ Two instances of forced eviction already have taken place in Chennai, on 9 September and 15 September 2017. In both these evictions, reportedly, the state did not follow due process, including providing affected persons with adequate legal notices, conducting consultations/public hearings, and providing them with information on the resettlement site, the resettlement package, location of the alternative houses, and nature of tenure at the resettlement site.

On 9 September 2017, GCC evicted 347 families at MSP Nagar in Maduravoyal. Even though the Corporation claims to have provided families 400 square feet houses worth Rs 16 lakh (1,600,000) in Gudapakkam near Thirumazhisai, the resettlement site is located at a distance of 24.3 kilometres from people’s current sites of residence. Relocation could thus lead to loss of livelihoods and education. The evicted families are also concerned that the eviction has taken place in the middle of the academic year, thereby impacting children’s right to education.[1]

On 15 September 2017, GCC evicted 46 families that had been living along the banks of the Cooum River at Aminjikarai for more than 10 years and shifted them to the remote relocation site of Perumbakkam, situated at a distance of 30 kilometres from Aminjikarai. This drive was undertaken by GCC under CRRT.[2] The eviction came as a surprise for residents, as they had not been given any official notice. They alleged that they had been verbally informed to move out of their homes on Tuesday, 13 September; the demolition took place on Thursday, 15 September, in the morning at 7 a.m.

The corporation’s eviction drive did not touch the mall in Aminjikarai, but has rendered low-income families living along the river homeless. This reveals the arbitrary nature of implementing the court order and discriminating against the urban poor. Furthermore, the residents were informed that they would be shifted to the resettlement site at Gudapakkam. However on the day of the eviction, the officials from GCC informed the affected persons that they were being shifted to Perumbakkam. This came as a rude shock to the families.

By forcefully evicting and relocating families from the banks of Cooum River, the Government of Tamil Nadu has violated their human rights. The state did not carry out any Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to identify the adverse impacts of the resettlement; neither has it prepared any Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) to mitigate identified adverse impacts. The poor and marginalized are being pushed to the fringes of the city in the mid-academic year. This could result in an increased school drop-out rate and loss of employment/livelihoods of affected persons. There is also no adequate mechanism for grievance redress for the affected persons.

Violations of National and International Human Rights Law: 

The demolitions in Chennai indicate a violation of the human right to adequate housing. These forced evictions without adequate rehabilitation violate the affected people’s fundamental right to life and livelihood as enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Reaffirming the principle of indivisibility of all human rights, the fundamental right to life encompasses the right to live with human dignity. Furthermore, Article 14 of the Constitution of India guarantees equal protection under law. The demolitions in Chennai also contravene the provisions of the central government’s scheme called Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or Housing for All by 2022.

By these evictions, the local authorities have breached their treaty obligations under, inter alia, Articles 2, 11, 12, 13, and 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which India acceded in 1979. The State has been derelict in its obligations as elaborated in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comments No. 4 on the right to adequate housing and No. 7 on forced evictions. India also has contravened its obligations under Articles 16, 27, and 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which it acceded on 11 December 1992, and Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which it ratified on 9 July 1993.

The UN Commission on Human Rights (in 1993) recognized that forced evictions constitute a “gross violation of human rights, in particular, the right to adequate housing.”  The UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement (2007) stipulate that evictions must only be carried out in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and in accordance with international law and human rights standards. They present operational guidelines for states to follow before, during, and after evictions. In areas along Cooum River in Chennai, the local government did not follow due process. Officials did not provide any notice of the demolition to residents; neither was any consultation carried out with them.

The Supreme Court of India, in several judgments, has held that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right emanating from the right to life protected by Article 21 of the Constitution (“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”). There have been several important court judgments that have clearly established the relation between the right to housing and the right to life as guaranteed by Article 21.

In the case of Chameli Singh and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996), the Court has given a clear understanding of the right to life by stating that the “Right to life guaranteed in any civilized society implies the right to food, water, decent environment, education, medical care and shelter.” The High Court of Delhi in the case Sudama Singh and Others v. Government of Delhi and Anr. (2010) also clearly establishes the duty of the state to uphold the rights to housing and resettlement.

The actions against Chennai’s urban poor constitute a violation of their basic human rights to life, security, health, work, and adequate housing; i.e., the right of all women, men and children to gain and sustain a secure place to live in peace and dignity. The authorities have especially violated people’s entitlements to security of tenure and freedom from forced evictions; access to, and benefit from public goods and services; information, capacity and capacity building; participation and self-expression; rights to resettlement and adequate compensation for violations and losses; and physical security and privacy.

We are deeply concerned about the plight of the evicted families and those who face the imminent threat of eviction in Chennai. We urge you to respect India’s obligations under national and international law by:

  1. Recognizing and upholding the human right to adequate housing, which includes tenure security and the right to freedom from forced evictions, of all residents.
  2. Not treating all low-income residents living in informal settlements along rivers and water bodies as “encroachers” and evicting them.
  3. Stopping all forced evictions in Chennai and initiating a participatory human rights-based process to develop solutions aimed at protecting the rights of all residents, including their right to disaster protection.
  4. Developing a human rights-based disaster management policy that is based on international guidelines, including the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters, and incorporates principles of gender equality, non-discrimination, and ‘do no harm.’
  5. Ensuring the provision of disaster-resistant housing to all low-income groups and assisting them with in situ upgradation where possible.
  6. In areas where in situ upgradation is not possible, ensuring that alternative houses are constructed not more than five kilometres from people’s original places of habitation.
  7. Following due process for any eviction/relocation, including providing adequate notice to all affected families, conducting public hearings and consultations with all potentially affected persons, and fulfilling human rights standards at all resettlement sites, as per the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement.
  8. Granting compensation to all affected persons for any losses and damage incurred during the eviction/relocation process.
  9. Ensuring that resettlement processes are carried out in consultation with the communities at the planning, implementation, and evaluation phases.
  10. Ensuring the continuation of children’s education by providing easy transfer to schools at the resettlement site as well as other support services.
  11. Protecting livelihoods of affected persons by ensuring free bus passes to commute to places of work as well as education, where required.
  12. Implementing India’s national and international legal obligations and upholding judgments of the Honourable Supreme Court of India that have recognized the right to adequate housing as an integral component of the fundamental rights to life.
  13. Implementing recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, in her mission to India report. These include the need to place a moratorium on evictions in India and to end homelessness by the year 2030.[3]
  14. Implementing recommendations related to housing and sustainable urban development made to India under its third Universal Periodic Review (May 2017) and accepted by India.[4]

We await your humane and timely intervention to restore the violated human rights of the affected and to prevent more forced evictions in Chennai and resultant violations of the human rights of the urban poor, who in the absence of low-cost housing options are forced to live in precarious locations.

Notes:

[1] ‘Greater Chennai Corporation to evict 46 more families from Cooum bank,’ The Times of India, 13 September 2017. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/corporation-to-evict-46-more-families-from-cooum-bank/articleshow/60485130.cms
[2] ‘46 families evicted from Cooum banks in Chennai,’ The Times of India, 14 September 2017. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/46-families-evicted-from-cooum-banks-in-chennai/articleshow/60511955.cms
[3] Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Mission to India, A/HRC/34/51/Add.1 , January 2017. Available at: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/34/51/Add.1
[4] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, India, A/HRC/36/10, July 2017. Available at: https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/india/session_27_-_may_2017/a_hrc_36_10_e.pdf

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