A Supreme Court June 7 order has left environmentalists and human rights activists bewildered after it ordered the demolition of over 10,000 houses in Khori village, a slum located on the Delhi-Haryana border for forest preservation at Aravalli forest land. The court has given a six-week ultimatum to implement the order.
The residents who have been living there for 21 years will become homeless and that too amid pandemic. The residents are living in constant fear and almost five families have witnessed suicides.
“We Are Owners, Not Encroachers”
The residents of Khori village have built those houses with their entire life’s savings and had bought that land from dubious land dealers. They carry the legal proof of the transaction too.
A 70-year old resident of Khori village, Ganeshilal took his life on June 17 allegedly under the stress of an impending demolition order. He was living there for 15 years. He had bought the land and built a house after he took the loan. The majority of the families there are surviving under loans and are mostly migrant labourers.
No Electricity, No Water
The residents of Khori village are still in turmoil whether the pandemic Covid-19 is more lethal or this Supreme Court order which will take away their roofs. Most of the village population is not vaccinated which can be a matter of concern.
The water and electricity connections to the slum dwellers have been cut. Section 144 has been imposed in the area. Several residents and activists have been detained.
Owners of FarmHouses, Malls, and Banquet Halls To Be Next On Target
“If you come through Khori, you see streets dotted with farmhouses, banquet halls, and even malls. Why is the court not calling those constructions as encroachment? The court says forests come first, do our lives have no value? Where was the administration when we were setting up our homes here? None of us were stopped back then because the Forest Department wanted to make money and here we are now – after living here for generations we will have to stay on the streets,” said Adhikari, a resident of Khori village as the court has order eviction of slum dwellers first.
Eviction Without Rehabilitation:
“The Haryana government’s rehabilitation policy remains questionable. We have appealed to the court to rehabilitate people prior to evicting them and leaving them with no means of survival,” argued senior advocate Colin Gonsalves while appearing for slum dwellers. He had sought rehabilitation under Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran Rehabilitation Policy as right to housing is a fundamental right under Article 21 of Constitution.
Although the Haryana government has apprised that it is working on a plan to provide rehabilitation to the evicted people, it will exclude the people who don’t have a valid ID proof and are from outside Haryana.
Humans or Environment- Ethical Dilemma in Social Work
The eviction without rehabilitation during a pandemic is considered as a violation of the right to decent housing. Human rights activists and environmentalists are in a dilemma. The order has created a situation of contest between environment conservation and housing rights. Conservationists are also demonstrating that environmental protection can be achieved only with socio-economic justice.
Among the people who will be displaced, there are 5,000 pregnant and lactating women and over 20,000 minors.
We Want Our Forest Land to Be Cleared: SC Ordered
On June 7, Supreme Court refused to stay removal of encroachments which contain 10,000 houses and over 1 lakh people over hundreds of acres of Aravali forest land near Khori village. The division bench had given six-week time to the Haryana and the Faridabad municipal corporation to evict all the “land grabbers” and asked the secretary, forests department of Haryana government to submit a compliance report by July 27.
“We make it clear that the corporation shall proceed in the matter as observed in our orders dated February 19, 2020 and April 5, 2021,” said Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari.
SC Stayed PLPA Amendment Bill
Haryana Government had introduced a bill amending Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900. SC slammed the state govt for making amendments to use the land for real estate development in Aravali hills.
Khori Residents Outcry For Help
“We are poor people who cannot afford to lose whatever we have built over time. Why not punish the land mafia which sold the land? Also, if this has to be done, some alternative arrangement to compensate us for the loss should be made,” Mohammed Salim, a labourer.
“I have spent Rs 10 lakh and it will go down the drain if the house is demolished, besides making us homeless during the pandemic,” said Lallan Kerketta (42), an auto driver.
“Why don’t they go after the dealers who sold us this land? We are not at fault here. We saved whatever little we made to buy land in Khori village. We can’t afford land worth Rs 10-12 lakh,” Sakila Begum.
“This house is our entire life’s savings, if they come for it, they will have to bury us in its ruins,” Sitara Khatoon.
“I am a second year BCom student. Currently, I am supposed to be taking online classes, but how is that even possible with a discharged phone?” said Sapna Kumari.