Information about the issue:
On 31st August 2020, an SC order sought to clear the slums around railway tracks in Delhi within three months, without any policy for rehabilitation. As concerns were being raised on the procedure to be followed in this regard, in another order dated 14th September, 2020, the Court instructed the authorities to devise a proper policy for the rehabilitation of the affected population before their eviction from the current place of residence. The SC however, did not recognize the fact that the brunt of unplanned eviction exercises has been found especially disadvantageous for women and girls.
During eviction processes, women are subjected to psychological and physical intimidation both by the male relatives and the officials involved. Women can also be rendered homeless, or forced to move to inadequate housing settlements. This affects their right to shelter, and privacy which leads to exposure to sexual and other forms of violence. Women are the first ones to lose their jobs as a result; the strain of displacement leaves them vulnerable to domestic violence and impoverishment. Yet there is no government policy that addresses the implications of such rehabilitation or relocation for women and girls.
Women’s & Girls’ Right to Shelter and State’s Duty
Article 21 read with Article 19(1)(e) of the Constitution provides a mandate for the Human Right to Shelter. Simultaneously, Article 39(b) requires the State to distribute ownership rights and material resources of the community to promote weaker sections of society (women & girls in the present case) by securing social and economic justice for them. Moreover, in Chameli Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh, the SC observed that the right to shelter is an inseparable component of the right to life. In Sudama Singh & Others vs Government Of Delhi & Anr., the Delhi High Court observed that the State should ensure basic civic amenities for slum dwellers consistent with the right to life and dignity of ‘each’ of the citizens. As an implication of these judicial principles, the Government is obligated to ensure that any plan for rehabilitation guarantees protection of evicted women’s & girls’ rights.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on Forced Eviction, recognizes women as the most vulnerable of all groups in terms of statutory and other forms of discrimination which often apply in relation to rights of access to property or accommodation. This obligates the governments to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to ensure no discrimination against women and girls in cases of eviction. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and UN guiding principles on the security of tenure for the urban poor, also put the onus on the authorities to formulate rehabilitation policies addressing women’s extraordinarily vulnerable status in the event of any form of government-led eviction.
What are we doing in this regard?
We had already written to the relevant authorities enlisting our concerns & recommendations for a specific policy of rehabilitation for the aggrieved population of slum dwellers. In the same matter, we have now written a letter raising our concerns specifically with respect to women and girls, to the Cabinet Minister, Ministry of Women & Child Development; the Chief Minister of Delhi; the Chief Executive Officer of Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board; the Secretary General Chief Executive Officer, National Human Rights Commission; the Chairperson, National Commission for Women; and the Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women.
Pointing out the fact that forced evictions by State authorities, especially during the pandemic, contravene the duties of the Government under the Disaster Management Act 2005 (Sections 36 and 39), we have highlighted how India has no policy or legislation that recognizes the experience of women in the matters of rehabilitation and eviction. Since this extraordinary circumstance will be severely distressing for them, we have urged the authorities to take cognizance of the matter and formulate a specific policy in this regard, as failure of doing so is an abrogation of Parts III & IV of the Constitution of India. In this context, we have also made the following recommendations:
Recommendations for Immediate Policy Action:
- Provision for in situ rehabilitation policy coupled with a compensation to address loss of financial security in case of evictions.
- Ensure alternative accommodation for evicted women with adequate amenities and access to employment, health services, schools, childcare centers, social services like police stations, NGO support programs, etc.
- Conduct eviction and rehabilitation as per a properly laid down plan, with guaranteed police security and a zero tolerance policy against harassment.
- Ensure no discrimination in relocation facilities against women-headed families, widows, etc., through access to redressal mechanisms for raising complaints.
- Ensure that the new accommodation is safe and that women are protected against being arbitrarily displaced.
- Incorporate an eviction impact assessment as it can be a powerful tool for designing projects compliant with human rights and in assessing the differential impact on most vulnerable groups.
- Fill the void of legislation and policies in the future, with properly laid out schemes and plans.
Recommendation for Long Term Policy Action:
- Remove barriers to formal and substantive gender equality through laws, policies, or programs concerning rehabilitation.
- Any program concerned with housing or a related area must include specific provisions for women to ensure that they are entitled to legal title to land, property, and housing.
- Acknowledge the right to access resources, including housing, and other incidental rights such as health & educational facilities for women and girls in the informal sector.
- Strictly address the issue of gender-specific violence and lack of protection of women from violence.
- Provide temporary or emergency shelters for women in times of eviction, to reduce the risk that women face in meeting their survival needs.
We will continue following up with the government in this regard. We will update this post with further information about the issue.
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