The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard an urgent matter related to the demolition of a night shelter for the homeless in Sarai Kale Khan by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
The matter was mentioned by Advocate Prashant Bhushan before Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, who said that it was listed before the Bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Dipankar Datta.
The Counsel then submitted that since Justice Bhat was not sitting and the demolition had already commenced, the matter needed urgent hearing.
The CJI then listed the matter before the Bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Dipankar Datta, stating that since Justice Datta was sitting with Justice Bhat, it had to be mentioned there.
Bhushan contended that the demolition was ordered on Tuesday night and was scheduled to start at 10:30 am. However, the authorities came to know about the matter being listed before the Apex Court today and so, the process was preponed.
The Counsel showed the pictures of demolition and said it was happening right now.
By the time the matter was taken up by the Bench comprising Justice Roy and Justice Datta, the night shelter, which housed 50 homeless residents, had already been demolished.
The Bench then observed that nothing could be done now, since the urgency element had gone. However, the Apex Court said it would deal with the aspect related to rehabilitation of the affected persons and tagged the matter for February 22, when similar cases related to shelter homes would be taken up for hearing.
The petition had challenged demolition on the ground that no alternative arrangement was provided to the occupants of shelter home.
Bhushan contended that the decision to demolish the shelter was taken at a meeting of the State Level Shelter Monitoring Committee (SLSMC), following a proposal floated by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).
He said the DUSIB had given two reasons for the proposed demolition. It said the Deputy Commissioner of Police, South East District, Delhi had recommended the removal of shelter as it was acting as a ‘hide-out’ for history-sheeters.
Further, the Horticulture Division had requested removal of the shelter since the DDA was constructing a Bamboo garden named Baansera in the area, and also because the shelter home was located at the entrance of this dream project, pointed out the plea.
The petitioner further said that the site was one of the locations selected for the G-20 summit meetings due to be held in Delhi.
It further said that the orders for removal of shelter by criminalising the homeless or for the beautification of the city and the construction of dream projects could not be allowed and amounted to gross violation of the right to life of the homeless.
The petition contended that there were arrears in funds, which were payable for the maintenance of these shelters, which was the reason for the pathetic situation that they were in.
Bhushan pointed out that this was also a clear violation of court guidelines, which called for the construction of adequate shelters in every city along with basic amenities to ensure that the homeless have a life of dignity.
The plea said poor staffing, sanitation and maintenance of the shelter was not a ground for its removal, adding that the Apex Court should discourage the practice of branding homeless residents as ‘criminals’ and ‘miscreants’ without any basis.
The petition sought directions to the State to place on record its policy for resettlement or relocation prior to demolition or removal of any shelter for the urban homeless. In the absence of any such policy, it requested the Supreme Court to direct the State for framing of such policy in a time-bound manner.
A batch of petitions challenging a demolition drive by DDA near the Mehrauli Archaeological Park ahead of next month’s G20 meeting was presently pending before the Delhi High Court. On Tuesday, the High Court had issued a stay on this demolition till February 16.