The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered status quo on the demolition of around 5,000 'jhuggis' in Gujarat for a Railway line project. A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant passed the order after the matter was mentioned for urgent listing before it.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench that in compliance with the Gujarat High Court's August 19 order, directing eviction of over 10,000 slum dwellers, the authorities were going to start the demolition work on Tuesday itself. "List the matter on August 25, 2021 before an appropriate bench. Till August 25, 2021, the concerned authorities are directed to maintain status quo," the bench said in its order.
Gonsalves told the bench that the high court had vacated its July 23, 2014 interim order of status quo and permitted the Western Railways to go ahead with the Surat-Udhna up to Jalgaon third Railway line project. The plea, filed by Surat-based 'Utran se Besthan Railway Jhopadpatti Vikas Mandal', has said that irreparable injury would be caused to the slum dwellers, who are residing on the Railway land, if they are not provided with alternate arrangement and once they would be evicted and made homeless, their condition would become more miserable especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition, filed through advocate Satya Mitra, sought stay on the demolition of these jhuggis' claiming that no breathing time has been given to the slum dwellers and authorities have been forcing them to vacate within 24 hours. It has sought direction to authorities, including the Centre and Gujarat government, to rehabilitate the concerned slum dwellers. It has also sought a direction to the Gujarat government to rehabilitate all those families, which the Western Railways proposes to evict, under the existing state rehabilitation scheme within stipulated time frame.
It said the Western Railways be directed to formulate a rehabilitation policy for slum dwellers of the proposed site within stipulated time frame. It has also sought to declare the Gujarat slum rehabilitation policy as discriminatory, arbitrary and unconstitutional as it does not include slum dwellers residing on the Railway land.
The impugned order dated August 19, 2021 violates the various judgments laid down by the Supreme Court of India in which the court has held Right to Housing as an important ingredient of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and has emphasized on the rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, said the plea while challenging the high court order. It alleged that the order of demolition, without providing rehabilitation scheme for over 10,000 slum dwellers, is illegal, inhuman and violates Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
It said the petition has been filed for and on behalf of around 10,000 slum dwellers who are living near the Railway lines in the city of Surat. They have been residing on Railway land for more than 60 years now. Most of them have proof of residence with them. Most of the residents have their Voter ID cards and Ration cards as proof of identity with them. The slum settlements that would be demolished between Utran to Besthan are 21 in number, it said.
The plea said there are cases of many re-settlements that have happened on case-to-case basis due to evictions or developmental projects. It is true that the project of great public importance has to be completed as early as possible but the only grievance of the petitioners is that it should not be done without providing adequate rehabilitation to the slum dwellers. The respondents have not come up with any rehabilitation policy for those slum dwellers who would be unjustly displaced and dislocated from the Railway land, it said.
It said the state government had floated a scheme — Gujarat Slum Rehabilitation Policy, 2013 — as per which slum dwellers are to be provided with dwelling units/residents by the government authorities. The plea said the high court, in an order passed in March 2016 in the case, had said that unless a suitable and effective rehabilitation scheme of slum dwellers is framed by the Railway administration it is not possible to permit the demolition to take place The High Court has been asking the Western Railway to come up with the rehabilitation policy for the said site since 2016. Even after five years have passed, the Railway authorities did not come up with any rehabilitation plan for the same, it alleged. It said slum dwellers, whose jhuggis' are on the municipal corporation land, are eligible for rehabilitation and are protected from eviction without rehabilitation but unfortunately, those who are on the Railway land are not covered under the Gujarat Slum Rehabilitation Policy, 2013. It said a notice dated August 21 was put up by the Western Railway authority stating that within 24 hours the demolition drive would start and later, the slum dwellers residing at the Railway line were asked to vacate their houses stating that demolition would take place on August 24.