Sudama Singh & ORs v. Govt. Of Delhi & ORS, Maya Devi & Ors. vs Govt of Dehi, Majnu vs. Commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and Mukundi Lal Chauhan & Ors. vs. Municipal Corporation of Delhi
Four clubbed Writ Petitions involving the right to housing – Sudama Singh & Ors v Govt of Delhi, Maya Devi & Ors. vs Govt of Dehi, Majnu vs. Commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and Mukundi Lal Chauhan & Ors. vs. Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Writ petitions brought on behalf of residents of slum clusters whose huts had been demolished by government land development agencies in order to advance road development projects, aimed at facilitating the holding of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The petitioners, members of a nomadic tribal community called Gadia Lohar, migrated from Rajasthan to New Delhi in 1965 and settled in slum clusters (“jhuggies”) in a New Delhi locality known as Gadia Lohar Basti (or Prem Nagar). They had lived in the locality for over 40 years when their huts were demolished and they contended that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the Slum Department violated their right to shelter, when they did not provide for their relocation to settlements with basic facilities. Respondents alleged that petitioners were encroachers on public land because their settlements were located on a “Right of Way”. The High Court of Delhi was skeptical that any policy identifying and defining a “Right of Way” existed. Yet, the Court proposed that even if a “Right of Way” existed, it could not apply to Petitioners who had lived on a particular, open land for decades. Furthermore, the Court held that Respondents did not show any systematic process for discerning which dwellers were eligible for relocation benefits. The Court also emphasized that the Delhi’s government policies should aim at rehabilitating and relocating slum dwellers, and not at increasing homelessness. Adopting a broad definition of the right to shelter, the Court decided that housing was crucial to human well-being and physical, mental, and emotional development. Finally, the Court interpreted the right to shelter as a right encompassed by the constitutional right to life (article 21). It also pointed to various international instruments, recognizing a legal obligation of the State to support the right to shelter (Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 25(1) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 11). The Court followed the understanding of the CESCR on General Comment 7, which interpreted forced evictions as a violation of the ICESCR, and the Commission on Human Rights, which interpreted such evictions as a human rights violation. (Sudama Singh & ORs v. Govt. Of Delhi & ORS, High Court of Dehli, India, 2012)
The Petitioners followed up with the authorities in order to implement the judgment. After sending several letters to the implementing authorities for over a year, the Petitioners filed a Contempt Petition before the Delhi High Court. The Government of Delhi appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in SLP(C) 445-446 of 2012, and simultaneously fought attempts to rely upon this judgment in subsequent public interest litigation petitions filed before the Delhi High Court. However, the Government finally decided to withdraw its appeal and, on 31 July 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as withdrawn, leaving the Delhi High Court orders intact and in place.
HRLN - Human Rights Law Network (Mukundi Lal Chauhan & Ors. vs. Municipal Corporation of Delhi)
In this case, the Court established procedures to be followed prior to and after slum demolitions. In particular, the Court held that the government agency can only clear land when it falls within the public purpose, a survey must be conducted to determine eligibility of relocation prior to demolition with ‘meaningful engagement’ of the residents, and relocation options must be identified to all eligible beneficiaries prior to demolition. The judgment has reinvigorated the debate on the legality of forced evictions and removals in the capital city. Since 2006, at least 200,000 families have fallen victims to illegal demolitions under the guise of city beautification and development. This case has brought together civil society groups working on issues of land rights, homelessness, and discrimination against dalits and other vulnerable groups. The judgment has been disseminated widely and holds great promise for ensuring that State governments enact eviction policies consistent with human rights obligations, and serves as the foundation for numerous subsequent right to shelter petitions filed throughout Delhi, particularly with respect to the language regarding the importance of performing proper surveys of residents, and providing relocation rehabilitation prior to evictions and demolitions.
Last updated on December 2013.