PUCL condemns “inhuman and undemocratic demolition” of Batla House slums

Image courtesy: Gauri Lankesh News

TCN News  

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has drawn attention of the respective authorities at the sudden demolition of slums in Batla House.

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PUCL Delhi’s team consisting of N.D.Pancholi, Sheoraj Singh, Arun Maji, Surya Prakash, Vertika Mani and Brajesh had visited the site on October 2 to gather first-hand account of what had happened. They were informed that on October 8, a team of DDA officials and Delhi Police entered Batla House’s Dhobi Ghat a second time after demolishing the premises on September 24. These were the same officials accompanied by police who raided the  jhuggies of about  70  families  situated  at  Dhobi Ghat and “brutally demolished them.”

Speaking against the “undemocratic” action, PUCL highlighted in its report that these families have been residing there for about 20 to 30 years with ration cards, voter ids, electricity bills, aadhar cards and other identity proof documents.

PUCL noted that according to settled  policy, as enunciated in various cases of Supreme courts and High courts, especially in the cases of  ‘Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996) 2 SCC 549 (Supreme Court),Sudama Singh v. Government of Delhi (2010) 168 DLT 218 and ‘Ajay Maken & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors., (2019) 260 DLT 581 DB.’ (Delhi High court), the “Right to Shelter is a fundamental right” and no slum-dweller would be removed without providing them alternate accommodation.

PUCL reminded DDA of framing this policy itself with the above objective but even then it continued demolition at Dhobi Ghat flouting such mandates. As gathered from locals, PUCL highlighted how “bulldozers were let loose destroying whatever was inside the jhuggies  without allowing the families to  retrieve their scanty  belongings” and “whatever remains were there of the  utensils, cots, stools, jewellery, money, documents were put inside the trucks  and taken away.” It also stated how about 400 families with their children, old and young,   had been staying in the open in almost “under starvation conditions without water while bracing oppressive  heat,” while the DDA officials had inundated the razed ground with water  in order to make the stay of the families there impossible.

In such a scenario, these families had   no alternative but to shift to an adjacent plot but on October 8, DDA police officials visited again. This time, PUCL got to know from locals, “water was let loose on the ground on which the families were trying to stay and their temporary shanties made of clothes etc. were destroyed” while “heart rending  cries of weeping children, women and old  did not trouble the  raiding team as they went on their destructive spree  triumphantly and gleefully.”

PUCL was also informed about the nexus among the builder-mafia and some officials of  DDA  and local police “as the demolition  attack   was confined  only to jhuggies of  poor  dwellers while large  part of  surrounding area similarly occupied  by some local  power-brokers was not touched.”

PUCL stated that the families have approached the Delhi High court which has asked them to approach National Green Tribunal as the order of demolition was ordered by the latter but legal proceedings are along as the 400 families struggle for need of immediate relief.

“It is ironical that authorities are taking these harsh measures during pandemic of coronavirus which is threatening the lives of lakhs of people world over,” PUCL statement iterated.  It reminded that governments after governments have been advising the people to ‘stay home’ so that spread of the deadly disease could be curtailed and the authorities have acted “unmindfully of the dangerous consequences” by forcing eviction of hundreds.

Accusing the authorities of going against constitutional ideals, PUCL said that “the authorities seem to be more interested in the measures which would augment the disease rather controlling  it.”

Through its official statement, PUCL has invited officials “to ponder over the salient interpretation of the top court which is the true import of our constitutional objectives,” calling upon them to immediately stop such “inhuman and undemocratic adventures in which they are indulging in the name of clearing slums.”  Simultaneously, it has urged the respective authorities of DDA, Police and Delhi Govt:

(i)  not to resort to  any measure for displacing the jhuggie dwellers from the spot where they had been residing for the last about 20 to 30 years;

(ii)  rather to help them in rebuilding their hutments so that they enjoy their fundamental right to shelter;

(iii) appeal to the authorities  to pay  suitable compensation to the affected jhuggie dwellers for the damages done to their jhuggies and their belongings as well as for mental tension caused to them.