Charan Khad in Dharmshala (Himachal Pradesh) was home to around 1,500 slum dwellers for more than 3 decades, before the settlement was demolished last year by the newly formed Municipal Corporation. Before demolition, these people, mostly Scheduled Caste migrants from Rajsthan and Maharshtra, used to live in ‘shanties’ located close to the Charan Khad (stream). The population mainly consists of rag pickers, street vendors and daily wage labourers. The city of Dharmshala was the main source of income and livelihood for these dwellers. The Municipal Corporation of Dharmshala (MCD) launched the slum demolition drive on the ground that the practice of open defecation by the slum dwellers was turning into a public hazard.
Today, after one year of demolition, these displaced families are still waiting for proper rehabilitation. The careless attitude of district authorities brought these families (consisting of women, elders, disabled and children) on streets. ‘Charan Khad Basti Punarwas Samiti’ and Kangra Citizens Rights Group (a collaboration of independent citizens, social activists and NGOs) has been demanding rehabilitation or allotment of land under various housing schemes for the displaced persons. “We supported the community to get organised under the banner of Charan Khad Punarwas Samiti and have been lobbying for right to shelter, apart from raising voice against the unfair eviction”, told Manshi Asher (member of Kangra Citizens Rights Group).
The Municipal Corporation Dharamshala has justified that they carried out the eviction “because the High Court ordered it”. However, this does not seem to be the case. The petition in the High Court was actually filed by a representative of the community appealing for a stay on the eviction. The High Court in May 2016 had ordered that the respondents may “act in accordance with the law”. The MCD used this order to evict the Charan dwellers.
It is important to note that there are many a dwellings and constructions in Dharamshala that are illegal. Further, there are several other activities, like garbage dumps which are a massive threat to the water sources in the city. Also, recent studies have shown that illegal constructions and the unplanned construction of septic tanks is causing landslides in upper Dharamshala. But, the MCD and district authorities chose to ignore these issues and take immediate action against the Charan Khad, which shows the inherent bias in the move.
In the legal complaint to NHRC, the samiti has alleged the MCD and other district authorities for carrying out inhuman treatment of tenants of Charan Khad. No adequate notice was served to these tenants and their homes were forcefully demolished by the administration at the onset of monsoon. On the question of whether the ‘open defecation’ by slum dwellers served as public hazard? The samiti has stated that the dwellers were not provided with any sanitation facilities since last 30 years. “Also, why there was no independent or joint investigation into this matter?” ask the activists.
Till now, MCD has not taken any step for rehabilitation of the Charan dwellers. The MCD denies the rehabilitation on the point of law that these settlements were not officially classified as “slums” under the Himachal Pradesh Slum Area Act, 1979. Whereas, the Samiti argues that after the establishment of MCD, it was the responsibility of MCD itself to declare Charan Khad as slum area under the relevant act.
Prima facie, the entire case of Charan Khad appears to be the violation of Article 21 enshrined under the Constitution of India. Article 21 along with right to life and personal liberty grants the Right to Dignity and Right to Shelter. Supreme Court in the landmark judgment of Olga Tellis and Ors. v. Bombay Municipal Council (1985) made it mandatory for the authorities to provide alternate accommodation to slum dwellers if their shantytowns were demolished. However, the inhuman demolition and eviction of nearly 1,000 families in the Shakur Basti slum in Delhi confirmed that the authorities are neither following nor taking the Supreme Court directive seriously.
Since most of these dwellers belong to SC and ST, this makes it a case of violation of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 also. Due to monsoon season, such harsh eviction has brought a lot of physical and psychological hardships to these dwellers. The activists have been demanding a temporary shelter for the rainy season to pass, but the request has been turned down.
Such a scenario shows the failure of our system to protect the rights of the underprivileged and oppressed. The children of this community with the help of different NGOs and independent citizens have really excelled in studies and are now pursuing professional courses like medical and BBA. Such ruthless act on the part of the MCD and district authorities have left the entire community hopeless.
Driving them outside the city is taking away their right of income and livelihood. The access to city is an important factor for them to earn their living and manage their families. But, the government seems to be unmoved and rigid.
Authors: Rishabh Shrivastava and Manshi Asher
You can reach authors at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Rishabh is the President of Hari-Kamal Foundation for Policy Research and Editor-In-Chief of The Analysis. Manshi Asher is a researcher-activist. She is working at Himdhara, Himachal Pradesh.
Manshi has been carrying out a campaign against the forceful eviction of Charan Khad dwellers. She has conducted a public event as well as initiated an online petition. You can access the details about the event and online petition here.
Hari-Kamal Foundation for Policy Research is an independent research think-tank working in the areas of environment, energy, politics and governance. It is situated in Bhopal. The Analysis (TA) is being maintained by the foundation only.