The Congress on Friday approached the Supreme Court against the demolition of nearly 48,000 slums near railway tracks in Delhi, reported PTI. The top court on August 31 had ordered the removal of the slums along 140 km of railway tracks in the Capital within three months and had instructed political parties not to interfere in the matter.

“The removal order was passed without hearing the slum dwellers,” Congress leader Ajay Maken said in his plea, according to NDTV. “If slums are removed, more than 2,50,000 people will be out on roads.”

Maken’s plea asked the top court to direct the railway ministry, the Delhi government and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board to rehabilitate the slum dwellers before their eviction and subsequent demolition of their homes. The petition also asked for directions to the three respondents to follow the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015 and the protocol for removal of the slums.

“That however, various policies of the Government of India and that of the Government of NCT of Delhi providing for prior rehabilitation/relocation of slum dwellers, survey of the affected population are neither being followed by the respondent Railways nor have been brought to the notice of this Court,” the petition said. It further noted that since those residing in the slums were not made parties in the case, their stand and the required documents could not be presented before the court.

The plea pointed out that the top court had not only directed the removal of nearly 48,000 slums but also ruled that no court will stay the process, which it said amounts to serious obstruction in the Right to Access to Justice.

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party on Friday claimed that the Railways had filed an affidavit in the top court that the slums were obstructing the cleanliness process of the Centre. The party’s spokesperson Raghav Chadha said the affidavit had exposed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s mentality.

“Arvind Kejriwal is making a full proof plan of action for the slum dwellers,” Chadha said, according to PTI. “This action plan and policy will ensure that no slum dwellers’ houses are demolished and the BJP’s plan to make people homeless will not become successful.”

The AAP leader said that if needed, his party will approach the Supreme Court and also “fight this battle on the streets”. “Without giving alternative house and rehabilitation, no slum dwellers’ house will be demolished in Delhi,” Chadha said. He also alleged that the BJP has been issuing notices, threatening those living in the slums that they will be demolished this month.

However, BJP’s Delhi unit spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor refuted the allegations levelled against the party and called them false and condemnable. “The Delhi government never fought for the 48,000 jhuggi [slum] dwellers in court and even now when they can help them by giving alternative accommodation in the form of over 50,000 Rajiv Ratan Housing Scheme lying vacant, we find AAP leaders like Raghav Chadha, instead of getting accommodation allotted to them are trying to mislead them on legal procedure,” Kapoor said.

Statement against forced evictions

At least 70 signatories, including the Right to Food Campaign and the Centre for Advocacy and Research along with residents of the Capital, urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its August 31 ruling.

“Passed in a long pending case on waste management in the city, the order will have devastating consequences on the lives, livelihood, dignity and rights of nearly 50,000 households, or over 2.5 lac people,” the signatories said in a statement. “It also comes at a time when the city is barely coping with the assault of the Covid-19 pandemic and will expose marginalised communities to health risks that further compound the threat to their homes, assets and livelihoods.”

The signatories claimed the top court’s order did not consider “both established policy protections for residents under the DUSIB policy on relief and rehabilitation”. “ is a matter of concern that no affected resident or community was aware of this case, and therefore has not been able to exercise their right to be heard and represented in a hearing that has such grave implications on their lives,” the group said. “Similarly, the Government of Delhi and DUSIB, whose policies govern these communities, have not been heard on the order.”

The group called for the top court to revise its order, including the three-month deadline for evictions, and asked the authorities concerned to apply the proper rules of rehabilitation. They asked all elected representatives in the Capital to perform their duty and protect the rights of all residents.

It also urged the authorities to not carry out the demolitions in view of the Covid-19 pandemic while the National Disaster Management Authority and Epidemics Act are in force. “That the Railways seek to establish a programme to work with communities to voluntarily remove threats within the safety zone without forced demolitions,” the statement said.

In conclusion, the signatories called for the administration and different agencies to deliberate on the problems at hand on waste disposal and urged them to chalk out an action plan excluding forced eviction.