The Supreme Court on Wednesday adjourned hearing on a petition filed by “Utran Se Besthan Railway Jhopadpatti Vikas Mandal” against demolition of over 10,000 slum dwellers living near the railway lines in the city of Surat, Gujarat alleging demolition without providing rehabilitation scheme is illegal, inhuman and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court previously had directed to maintain status quo over the eviction of 10,000 slum dwellers.
Today, the matter was listed before the three-judge bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar.
The High Court of Gujarat in a PIL matter titled as Rizwan Ahmed Usmani v. Government of India and Ors. had on 19th August 2021 vacated the interim order of 23rd July 2014 that granted status quo to be maintained on the construction of Surat-Udhna upto Jalgaon Third Railway Line Project on the site of the slum dwellings.
The SLP filed by Mr. Satya Mitra, AOR challenges this order of 19th August 2021. It is contended that the impugned order violates right to housing which is an essential ingredient of Article 21. The petition has been filed on behalf of about 10,000 slum dwellers.
It is pleaded before the Supreme Court that the impugned order affects the public at large relating to right to housing policy in Gujarat for slum dwellers who were residing on the railway land and are affected by the implementation of the project of laying down and constructing the Surat-Udhna upto Jalgaon Third Railway Line Project.
The petition states that on 21st August 2021 the Western Railway Authority had issued notice that in 24 hours the demolition drive would start. The petitioners were thereafter informed that the jhuggi dwellers residing at the railway line were being forcefully asked to vacate their houses on the night of 23rd August by the police stating that demolition would start on 24th August.
Facts and contentions
Since 1950, various small slum settlements were established by migrant workers. The slum dwellers have been residing for more than 60 years on railway land in Surat, Gujarat. Most of them have residence proof. The settlements are very old and many of them do not even have basic services and amenities. It is also summitted that the Surat Municipal Corporation had assessed tax from the slum dwellers. It is further contended before the Court that the slum dwellers living in proximity to the railway station are mostly informal daily wageworkers engaged in manual labour.
The petition states that the first threat to demolition without rehabilitation happened in 1984 which was subsequently stayed upon challenge before the High Court. Thereafter, in 1996
The petitioner has also placed on record that there have been resettlement on a case by case basis and that the Surat Municipal Corporation had also provided houses to railway land slums that were displaced by projects. It is pleaded that the only grievance of the petitioners is that the project should not be done without providing for adequate rehabilitation.
The petition raised the important question that the present Gujarat Slum Rehabilitation Policy, 2013 is arbitrary and discriminatory for holding only the slum dwellers residing at the Municipal Corporation of Gujarat land eligible for rehabilitation and for excluding all other slum dwellers who have been residing on any other land since years such as the land owned by Western Railways in this case.
It is the case of the petitioners that without considering the Gujarat Slum Rehabilitation Policy, 2013 and the schemes of the central government, the High Court has allowed the Railways to demolish without making alternate arrangements. The petitioners also contend that the High Court in an order dated 31st March 2016 had held that unless a suitable and effective rehabilitation scheme of slum dwellers is framed by the railway administration it is not possible to permit the demolition to take place and further that despite this the Western Railway has not come out with a rehabilitation policy.
The petition also makes an argument that various schemes have been worked out by the Indian Railways and implemented in Delhi and Maharashtra and the Southern states and that similar treatment should be given to the petitioners. Also, the High Court in the impugned order has vacated a stay order on demolition dated 23rd July 2014 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and has put the lives of the slum dwellers in danger.
The petition states that on August 21, 2021, the Western Railway Authority had issued notice that in 24 hours the demolition drive would start. The petitioners were thereafter informed that the jhuggi dwellers residing at the railway line were being forcefully asked to vacate their houses on the night of August 23 by the police, stating that demolition would start on August 24.
Thereafter, on 24th August the Supreme Court had directed the Gujarat government to maintain status quo over the eviction of 10,000 slum dwellers. It directed the matter to be listed before an appropriate bench. Mr. Colin Gonsalves, Sr. Adv. had submitted that the demolition work was to start immediately.
In the last hearing on August 25, the Supreme Court directed that the matter be listed on September 1, on the request of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. The Bench, comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna in the meanwhile, directed the ad interim order to continue.