The Delhi High Court has rightly questioned the demolition of a slum in Delhi in winter. Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission has indicated that if the facts are established it will view the demolition through the rights perspective. Demolition of homes is a cruel act which violates the right to not only shelter but also to dignity and life. The overt and covert violence involved has taken lives. Central and state governments have to evolve and implement appropriate policies.
The Aam Aadmi Party had a good start in terms of conducting a participatory citizen consultation exercise — Delhi Dialogue — in the run-up to elections. Based on what people said, it chalked out its election manifesto. On slums, it said: “Slum dwellers will be provided plots or flats in the same location as the existing slums. If that is not possible, they will be rehabilitated in the closest possible location. The Mohalla Sabha will plan the rehabilitation process and monitor its implementation. Until such rehabilitation is completed, the slums will not be demolished under any circumstances.” Further to that, the Delhi government drafted its proposed Delhi Slum Rehabilitation and Jhuggi Jhopri Relocation policy. As per the policy, the land-owning agency (such as Railway and DDA in the instances of recent demolitions in Delhi) should submit proposals to the state government which, if it allows demolition, will take the responsibility of relocating the slum dwellers.
But the real challenge is in finding resources and executing plans. Some disturbing trends include the encroachment of private land, alarming increase in migration and urban poor and the dismal failure of housing projects. The problem, therefore, should be tackled at multiple levels. Ban demolitions till alternative relocation plans are in place. Two, regularise slums, implement in-situ development and upgrades in a phased manner. While taking tough decisions to prevent new encroachments, the State should promote planned affordable housing for the urban poor, dovetailing them with financial empowerment initiatives. Using the iron heel to trample on the rights of the urban poor or shirking the responsibilities of a welfare state would not be befitting a civilised society.