Around 20,000 people were forcefully evicted from their homes across the country during the coronavirus pandemic, between March 16 and July 31, according to a report by Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN). It has compiled several such cases, such as a three-day demolition drive in East Laxmi Nagar market in Delhi in which around 100 houses were razed down and 150 families rendered homeless.
"It is likely that many of these evictions were carried out during the lockdown to take advantage of the curfew-like conditions, when movement of affected persons was restricted and they did not have access to legal remedies," said the report.
Despite the rise in coronavirus cases, the report said thousands of families have been forced to live out on the streets without food and water. "The urban and rural poor across India continue to suffer disproportionately from the pandemic and lockdown-induced hardships related to the loss of livelihoods, income, and food. Demolishing their homes under such circumstances has greatly exacerbated their plight and increased their impoverishment," it said.
The report said that 5,68,000 people have been evicted from their homes as a result of direct state action in the last three years, with over 519 being evicted daily, and over 14.9 million people currently face the threat of eviction from their homes and habitats.
The report also said that central and state government authorities last year demolished at least 22,250 homes, and in effect evicted more than 1,07,600 people across urban and rural India.
HLRN, which compiles statistics on forced evictions across the country every year, had said that two lakh people were forcefully evicted in 2018 and 2.6 lakh people in 2017.
The report noted the progressive reduction in the number of evictions, claiming it to be a function of reduced industrial activity in the country over the last three years.
“Though the incidence of forced evictions over the last three years is high, it would have probably been even higher had the rate of investment in the country been higher. As a result of a drop in the industrial activity and projects, many land acquisition, real estate, and infrastructure projects were delayed or stalled in 2018 and 2019,” it said.
From 2017 to 2019 on average, the report claimed “state authorities destroyed at least 108 houses daily, evicting about 519 people every day or 22 people every hour”.
The major reasons for eviction of people in 2019 were given as “slum clearance/beautification drives (43%)”, followed by “infrastructure projects (24%)”.
“It is ironic that forced evictions and demolitions of homes have continued across the country in opposition to the central government’s purported goal of providing ‘housing for all’ in India by 2022, under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana,” said the report.