In a country where most people face severe constraints in the struggle to meet their basic needs, the question of housing is the most challenging one for many of them, particularly in urban areas. Most of them have to use each and every paisa of their meager savings and incur loans in very difficult circumstances in order to be able to meet the very basic need of creating a secure shelter for their families.
Keeping in view this basic reality of the housing situation in India, several enlightened scholars and even senior officials have taken the stand that as far as possible any demolitions of houses of weaker sections and middle class people should be avoided. Due to complexity of urban land claims, if any hassles regarding the legal situation of houses arise, these enlightened scholars and officials have argued, some ways and means should be to found to save homes of people and to prioritize housing needs and priorities of people in decision making.
Some highly enlightened judges have taken an even more humanitarian view of the situation and have issued strong directives to protect people, their, homes and hearths, their livelihoods in nearby places, whenever these have been threatened by some less caring actions and decisions. Thousands of families remember with gratitude such caring judgments for years.
In recent times the need for such a caring and humanitarian attitude has further increased as the urban poor have been going through one of the most difficult phases of their life following the pandemic and the related exceptionally stringent and prolonged lockdowns. They have suffered from unemployment and indebtedness in these times to an extent which is perhaps more than ever before.
Despite all this, the sad and cruel fact remains that several avoidable demolitions have been reported in recent times from cities like Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Faridabad, to give some examples from north India.
The latest such sad situation has emerged in Haldwani city of Uttarakhand where over 4300 housing units are threatened in the colony of Banphoolpura. While the railways claim this as their land, the threatened people have said that they have been living here for around four decades, have registered their houses, have received electricity and water connections. Schools, hospitals and many places of worship also exist here. Hence thousands of people, including women in particular, have been coming out to protest against this new threat which has suddenly emerged from nowhere and that too in the middle of a cold wave, threatening their life and livelihood.
As most of them are poor and belong to minority communities, their voice may not have received the deserved sympathetic attention of the state government authorities, who may not have been keen to put forward their case adequately. However there is absolutely no doubt that there are very strong reasons for saving these housing units from any impending threat of demolition as people from relatively weaker sections have lived a well-settled life here for a long time and will find it very difficult to find any new housing.
So the best approach is to further regularize the housing rights of people to make them more secure. The only exception can be in the case of those dwellings, which are likely to be very few in number, in whose case some safety issue is involved, this colony being close to railway station. In such cases, possibilities of finding some alternative arrangements for these few units can be explored in a justice-based way, while in other cases people should not be disturbed at all. If there are any other genuine concerns of railways, a residents committee can be constituted to ensure that these are taken care of. In any case, it is important to ensure that the matter is settled without threatening the shelters of the people living here for so many years or even decades.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.