Shravan Bind has just returned to Delhi after a brief stay in his native village in Bihar’s Nalanda district. The cause for the abrupt return was driven by the news of the latest Supreme Court judgement ordering the removal of 48,000 slum dwellings located near the railway tracks in the national capital region. Bind, a resident of Shakur Basti slums, works as a garbage collector in Punjabi Bagh and adjoining areas, and sells recyclable things to contractors. Interestingly, the court ruling accused residents like Bind of dumping pollutants including plastic bags on railway tracks.
With demolition appearing imminent, Bind is numb now. He said, “The government is not demolishing homes. They are crushing our bones. Nobody can stand without bones.” Narrating his journey to Delhi, Bind told NewsClick, “I came to Delhi six years ago. Our family used to till lands, clear unwanted grass and weeds and all we got was just 5 to 10 kilograms of grains for bone breaking labour. My father told me to go to the city if we are to escape the serfdom of the landlords. I still do not earn much but I can feed my family now. I really cannot say what will happen when they demolish (our homes).”
Bind’s agony about his future reflects the common pathos of the residents of Shakur Basti slums, which consists of workers hailing from landless families who migrated to the big city for their survival.
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Mukesh Raikwar, a daily wage labourer said, “The nationwide lockdown has decimated any possibility of regular jobs. Nowadays, I only get eight days of work in a month. We are already broke. Now, if they demolish our homes, who will give us shelter amid the pandemic.” He further explained the reason behind the concentration of slums near railway tracks in the area, saying, “More than anything else, it is the railways which need us. We load and unload thousands of cement bags daily transported to different parts of the country from Shakur Basti station only and this is why you will notice such concentration.”
A close observation of the case in which the Supreme Court bench headed by retired judge Arun Mishra delivered its judgement suggests that the Railways’ affidavit about clearing of plastic bags from tracks was accepted without any further assessment and previous judgements about eviction and its impact on slum dwellers. Interestingly, the Environment Protection (Prevention and Control) Authority report, which forms the basis for the judgement, found the railways as the prime generator of plastic waste being dumped on the tracks and recommended the waste to be segregated at the source and handed over for recycling. It hardly made any reference to settlements for generating waste.
Raikwar, who hails from Teekamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, said that the court should have given them a chance to at least put forth their story of suffering in front of it. He said, “We do not know much about law but the government should stop it. Did we choose the government for this day? Modi had said the slum dwellers will be given land where they lived. It is time that he delivers on his promise.”
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The residents of the cluster are also vying for in situ rehabilitation. It should be mentioned here that the Delhi High Court in Ajay Maken versus Union of India had observed, “The right to housing is a bundle of rights not limited to a bare shelter over one’s head. It includes the right to livelihood, right to health, right to education and right to food, including right to clean drinking water, sewerage and transport facilities.”
Virender Koli, pradhan (head) of the basti told NewsClick that the most disturbing part about the judgement is that governments, both state and Centre, are silent about the rehabilitation question. He said, “The slums are not life less clusters. They have a syncretic relation with its surrounding. We provide labour in form of maids, drivers and other forms of workers. The people in these area depend on us and vice-versa. When somebody talks about rehabilitation, they must understand this relationship. If they rehabilitate us in Narela, Bawana or any other settlement, we will have to begin from scratch. Our children are grown now. They have to attend schools. Uprooting us would be disastrous for them. The politicians are claiming that they can make the city like Shanghai. But who will make it? They cannot build the city without us.”
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