Forced evictions and the case of Patna
‘The millions of displaced people do not exist anymore. When history is written they would not be in it, not even as statistics. Some of them have subsequently been displaced three and four times … The millions of displaced people in India are nothing but refugees of an unacknowledged war.
Arundhati Roy, The Greater Common Good
The many faces of development
The term ‘development’, in a general sense, implies the overall welfare increment of society. However, the development trajectory pursued has often had a more sinister impact on the lives of a large majority of people, especially the marginalised. Large-scale development projects have resulted in massive forced evictions of communities. ‘Forced eviction’ is defined as ‘the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection’.
In cities, forced evictions are usually carried out for city beautification, redevelopment, cleanliness, infrastructure development or to further other urban development prerogatives. In urban areas, it is often those residing in informal settlements (bastis), who are primarily targeted by the eviction drives and their safety, security and well-being is often not given adequate attention. According to a report by Housing and Land Rights Network India (HLRN), in 2018 over 2.02 lakh people were forcefully evicted across urban and rural India, demolishing over 41,700 housing structures in the process, and this is only a conservative estimate.
Let’s dive deeper to understand how forced evictions impact lives in irrevocable ways. Here’s looking at the case of Patna.
Patna: The city and its informal settlements
Patna is the state capital of the eastern state of Bihar. Of the total 20,49,156 population in Patna urban region, around 60 per cent lives in 110 identified bastis and other low-income settlements. ‘Slum’ in Patna is defined as a compact area of at least 20 ‘slum like households of poorly built congested tenements, in unhygienic environment usually with inadequate infrastructure and lacking proper sanitation and drinking water facilities.’
Informal settlements along the R–Block Digha Railway Line were one of the oldest settlements of the city. In an internal survey done by Ashray Abhiyan, a Patna based organisation working on housing rights, over 1,000 families resided here, with an estimated population of 7,000–8,000. Most of the people worked as informal workers in different sectors, with street vending and domestic help being the prominent occupations pursued. It is estimated that around 88 per cent of the population in the informal settlements of Patna belong to scheduled castes and other backward castes, and the R–block Digha Line settlement is no exception. Most of the residents living here belonged to scheduled castes, Dalits and Mahadalits.
Forced evictions at R–Block Digha Railway line
In 2018, over 500 houses and 150 khatals (cattle sheds) were demolished in a series of evictions at R–Block Digha Railway line housing settlement within a stretch of seven km along the railway line, occupying 71.25 acres of land. The cited reason for the demolition drive was the development of a four-lane road project. The drive began with the demolition of 18 houses on 11 September 2018, with the fencing by the authorities starting from three days later, 14 September onwards. For the purpose of this project, land was transferred by the East Central Railway to the Government of Bihar for INR 221 crore. The Bihar State Slum Policy 2011, contains the necessary provisions for resettlement of informal settlements located on untenable land (including railway land), to be facilitated by the state. However, so far, no resettlement or compensation policies have benefited the people. The state administration did not serve any individual written notices to households living in the settlements before evictions, defying legal process to be followed. The people were only informed via announcements made by officials from a train that passed through the now demolished locality.
Lives overturned by evictions
Over 500 families were rendered homeless due to evictions. They were not provided alternative housing arrangements, forcing them to live in the open as homeless or to find rented accommodation. Due to increased demand, the rents of slum houses in Patna have increased manifold in the last few months. Families claim that they chose to continue to live in the open because they could not afford the rented accommodation in the city. They have been living there for more than two to three decades and the settlement is located near their place of work, schools for their children and they can access basic services (procured over time) from these spaces. Due to the eviction, people’s means of survival have been snatched, children’s education has been disrupted (school uniforms and books have been damaged and access is now impaired). People’s access to water, electricity, toilet facilities and food is now uncertain. The families said that earlier they had a roof over their head, even though it was a thatched roof. Their sense of security has been shattered.
With the support of civil society, the people have taken up several efforts to discuss their issue with the district administration, including the District Magistrate, Road Construction Department and even the Hon’ble Governor of the State demanding rehabilitation of families. A Public Interest Litigation (CWJC 16596 of 2018; Tanuja Kumari vs State of Bihar) was filed in the Patna High Court which has not been taken up by the Chief Justice for hearing yet. In addition to this, an Impleadment Application (7645 of 2018) was filed in the case CWJC 11414 of 2017, demanding rehabilitation of affected families in the project. The intervention was dismissed by the High Court bench on the grounds that, it is up to the State’s will to arrange for the alternative rehabilitation of the residents. ‘Let the District Magistrate of Patna start demarcation of the land involved and remove encroachments in accordance with the law. Any individual aggrieved would have to approach this court by filing a petition,’ read the order dated 3 July 2018.
Evictions and violations
Rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of India are violated through forced evictions. Further, provisions for relocation stated under the Bihar State Slum Policy of 2011 applicable to slum dwellers on railway land have not been implemented in this case. In addition, the social impact assessment of land, which is mandatory before any project is provisioned under Section 4 of ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013’ has not been carried out in this case, thereby masking the implications of the development project on the residents of these settlements.
Realising rights through a people’s movement
People’s movements can play a critical role to help address such difficult scenarios and hold the authorities accountable to ensure the realisation of universal human rights. The capacity building and training of communities, and the formation and strengthening of a network of community-based organisations can help develop collective strength, to take people’s demands to relevant authorities and ensure that they are realised. Ashray Abhiyaan a Patna based organisation has been intensely involved in ensuring justice for these communities
The Zero Eviction Caravan, a nation-wide campaign by YUVA’s Anti-Eviction Support Cell (a helpline-based outreach for vulnerable persons and communities before, at the time of, and after evictions) which began from February 2019, has held conversations across cities with the aim to initiate and promote action on the issue of Right to Adequate Housing. Travelling across 21 cities, the Caravan has helped better understand the Right to Adequate Housing and ways of negotiating and responding to the threat of forced evictions. The Cararvan travelled to Patna to support this movement and support those seeking justice.
In total, over the past few weeks the Caravan has held training and discussion sessions with 800+ people across cities already, and reached out to almost 50 bastis — many of who face similar threats to their right to life. The efforts have been strengthened by 15 organisations and people’s collectives that have partnered on the journey. In the coming months the Caravan is committed to taking ahead these efforts with more strength.
Pranav Sujay, intern-YUVA, with inputs from Ankit Jha, Project Associate