Supreme Court appoints nodal officer to verify details of families in Sarojini Nagar jhuggis

The top court said that the halt on demolition in the area will continue as assured by Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj on the last date of hearing
Supreme Court (Photo | EPS)
Supreme Court (Photo | EPS)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday appointed a nodal officer on the suggestion of the central government who will find and verify details on the 172 families living in the jhuggis in the Sarojini Nagar area on their duration of stay, family details, income status, vocation being carried out by them and other relevant details.

The top court was hearing the plea challenging the removal of jhuggis in the area. The top court said that the halt on demolition in the area will continue as assured by Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj on the last date of hearing.

The matter would now be heard in July. The court added that the exercise will be carried out without prejudice to the rights and contentions of both sides. The top court clarified that the case is related to 172 families in the area and they are not dealing with a public interest litigation.

During the course of the hearing, the top court said that there’s a need for fine balancing of rights. The top court added that the use of cameras can be taken up to monitor the situation for faster and effective information and would not be an expensive solution too.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioners referred to the Olga Tellis 1985 judgment which pertained to the rights of slum dwellers for rehabilitation before being evicted. The court however said that it has been diluted since then.

Last Monday, the apex court had granted interim relief to the slum dwellers and halted the proposed demolition of around 200 jhuggis at Sarojini Nagar area in Delhi. The court while issuing notice in the case had taken the Additional Solicitor General’s statement on record saying that no coercive action will be taken till the next date of hearing.

During the course of the hearing, Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioners had argued that thousands of them (slum dwellers) cannot be banished and vanish like that. "Where do you expect thousands of people to go? There has to be some scheme," he said.

ASG KM Natraj appearing for the Centre had said that merely because they have been enrolled on election rolls, it does not confer them rights in this matter.

The petition says that forced eviction of jhuggi residents will permanently disrupt and destroy their lives as about 200 families, including children, elderly and women will be forcibly thrown on the streets, without any alternate accommodation.

The petition was filed by minor Vaishali, through next friend Sita Devi and others.

The plea says that the petitioners do not seek to hinder any of the development work/ public projects undertaken by the government and they are only seeking rehabilitation/relocation as per the policies of the state. The petition has referred to various orders of the High Court of Delhi and said that forced eviction (without rehabilitation/relocation) of slum dwellers has been strongly disregarded.

It also said that concerned authorities cannot deny alternate accommodation/rehabilitation for the indigent residents who have been living in jhuggis of Sarojini Nagar keeping in mind the Delhi Slum Rehabilitation Policy, which provides that all jhuggis that came into existence prior to January 1, 2016 are qualified to be rehabilitated.

The questions of law raised before the top court are whether state resources ought not to be distributed to provide basic minimum housing and shelter to those residing in jhuggis or slums since the 1980, and whether the denial to rehabilitation to the petitioners violates their right to shelter guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

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