India has over 17 percent of the world’s population living on 2.4 percent of the world’s geographical area. Land policy for rising urbanization is increasingly becoming more contentious and needs to be considered within the overall framework of human rights. While some rights have been established in the framework through the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bills (R&R), the frame still remains narrow. The R&R benefits are mostly applicable to farm lands and hence in urban contexts are hardly understood.
The demolitions happen in two cases: (1) when the land is occupied by slum dwellers without legal entitlements and is centrally located and strategic from real estate point of view; (2) when structures come in the ‘right of way’ while implementing infrastructure projects. With the growing clout of real estate and mega city projects including 1,483 km long Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor and Special Economic Zones, Delhi confronts the above situation with some glaring loopholes. Government of Delhi has been adopting a three-pronged strategy. Concurrent to evictions and demolitions, in-situ up-gradation, relocation of slum structures at far places, and environment improvement of existing ‘authorized’ or ‘unauthorized’ slums are these main approaches.In recent ten years, most of the evicted slum dwellers are resettled far away, in the rural fringe of Delhi, up to 30 kms. One such settlement site in Savda-Gherva that is located 13kms away from the far extended suburb (Rohini) of Delhi. According to a study conducted by Micro Home Solutions, the provision of ownership rights have varied greatly since 1962 – from 99-year leasehold in earlier colonies to the more recently truncated licenses of terms as short as 7-15 years. The titles restrict the right to transfer, sell or mortgage. Basic services such as electricity, sewage, and water only follow after relocation, taking between 3 to 15 years later to arrive, usually one at a time through political channels.A regressive and more darker view can be observed in Almrita vs. the Union of India case, a recent judgment of Supreme Court, that leaves no scope for the squatters on public or private lands for a reasonable resettlement by government. The judgment on one hand condemned the government failure to provide for low income housing as guaranteed in the Delhi Master Plan, on the other, it considered “rewarding an encroacher on public land with a free alternative site is like giving a reward to a pickpocket.” This pattern of showing the un-civic conduct of slum dwellers and the importance of removing them was maintained in the proceeding leading up to the demolition of the Yamuna Pushta, a slum housing of more than 150,000 people on the banks of the Yamuna river.How can we really reflect on the fundamentals of development when history is replete with instances of the community been left in isolation?Recently, the World Bank has published a resource-book on ‘involuntary resettlement’ both in rural and urban contexts, which along with the National R&R Policy can be a useful guide for R&R under the infrastructure projects. The central government of India has also released a draft of an ambitious new national land reform policy for public discussion, largely the result of efforts of Ekta Parishad. It is an organization that helped lead Jansatyagraha (a march of tens of thousands) to Delhi last year. In an effort to stop the march, the Union Minister of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh signed a 10-point agreement with Ekta Parishad. Through these campaigns, people have created a workable form of political action, which is a powerful tool to pressurize government into action. It is not something that has given instantaneous results, but it has shown that in a democratic state, governments always respond when the power is with the people.