Right to Housing of Working-Class people Living in Precarious Conditions is inalienable:
‘Environmental Protection’ cannot be an excuse to deprive vulnerable people of shelter
(Asian Independent)- National Alliance of People’s Movements denounces the ill-timed and grossly arbitrary order of the Supreme Court on 7 June, 2021, directing Faridabad Municipal Corporation to demolish the entire Housing Board Society of Khori Gaon, rendering homeless about 1,00,000 people (as conveyed by the locals) in the middle of the pandemic. We also condemn the clamping down on legitimate citizens’ protests against demolition without prior rehabilitation, particularly the use of lathi charge and the detention and arrest of protestors.
Execution of the order of the Apex Court within the stipulated time period of maximum 6 weeks from 7 July will impact more than 10,000 households belonging predominantly to migrant labourers, who have been living on the land for over 2 decades. Many of the residents came to work as mine-workers in this part of the Aravallis, when mining activities were taking place in the region. They lost their livelihoods as mining was rightly prohibited, over the years, to conserve the environment. Many of them have also been more recently and seriously affected by loss of work during the extended time of the pandemic.
The residents claim that they have time and again shown in court that they bought the land on which the houses are constructed, around two decades back. However, the Supreme Court refused to adequately acknowledge the need for their proper rehabilitation. The court Order sees the people as ‘encroachers’ on forest land falling under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), thereby pitting against each other, environmental and social justice rights. Ironically, though not unusually, the drastic measures are taken against residents of the 15 colonies, who are labourers and working-class migrant workers, whereas various high-end hotel complexes built on the same land are said to be left undisturbed and illegal mining activities continue in the area.
Following earlier demolitions in April 2021, the residents, who have been fighting cases against eviction for a decade, had approached the Supreme Court for protection and rehabilitation before demolition. However, the Supreme Court Order advised ‘no compromise’ in their removal from the land and permitted the use of the police force if needed.
In the latest, ongoing protests, following the Supreme Court order on 7 July, the residents appeal to the Haryana Government and Supreme Court on humanitarian grounds, demanding that ‘protection of the environment’ not be used as a stick to beat an already struggling community, which includes over 20,000 children below 18 and 5,000 pregnant, lactating and single mothers. The local people claim that the authorities have already cut their water supply and electricity. Women protesting on 14th June spoke of the disproportionate gendered impact the displacement is going to have, leaving single women, and other vulnerable women bereft of community support, as well as on the older people currently living in the community. Evicting them now would be signing their death sentence, people say.
While the Supreme Court order prescribes strict action against the working-class communities living in Khori Gaon, construction work continues unabated adding to the over 500 farm houses, hotels, and multistorey buildings and illegal mining that takes place with no legal action against those responsible for destroying the environment.
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is deeply concerned about the right to life, safety, health and housing of the affected communities. While we fully subscribe to the need to save the Aravalli Forest cover from mining, real estate and other destructive activities, we also emphasize the need to protect constitutional and human rights of vulnerable populations and hold accountable the organized mafia that has a much bigger role in the destruction of the forest for profit.
We stand in solidarity with the ongoing protests of the people of Khori Gaon, led by women of the community and with other networks, groups and concerned citizens raising their voices against the damaging Supreme Court Order and demolition drive. We demand the following:
1. The Supreme Court must immediately stay its Order on the demolition of the 10,000 households, at least during the pandemic period. The principle set by the Apex Court itself on previous occasions of ‘no displacement, without rehabilitation’ must be upheld under all circumstances.
2. No forced evictions or demolitions must be undertaken by the Govt of Haryana, during the pandemic, especially when the National Disaster Management Act is in force.
3. The Haryana Govt must put in place a structured and transparent mechanism and Plan of Action for the full and fair rehabilitation of the over 1,00,000 residents of Khori Gaon:
a. The 2,545 houses already constructed under JNNURM and lying vacant since 2011 must be allotted on priority to the residents.
b. All other people should be recognized and provided rehabilitation through Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (PMAY).
c. Persons who don’t have necessary documents to fall under PMAY should be seen as migrant workers and provided rehabilitation in rental housing.
4. Transit camps, with all requisite amenities, including food, water, health care, sanitation, covid safety measures, must be made available for the residents, during the process of shifting.
5. Any pending cases against the protestors must be withdrawn immediately and no further punitive action be taken against them.
6. Legal action must be initiated against those who sold land which falls under PLPA to the current residents of Khori Gaon, starting two decades back, in unauthorized ways.
7. A High-Level Independent Committee must be set up to inquire into the more than 500 farm houses, hotels etc also occupying this land.
8. The Parliamentary Standing Committee must initiate a dialogue with the concerned departments of the Govt. of Haryana and the Union Govt. to arrive at a more environmentally just legal plan for the long-term protection of the Aravalli forests and to protect the housing and livelihood rights of the poor who have settled in these government lands over time. The use of the PLPA Act must be carefully investigated before vulnerable people are treated as ‘encroachers’.