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India: UN expert raises alarm about mass evictions in Delhi

GENEVA (28 September 2020) - The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing today raised concerns about the decision to evict up to 250,000 people living in shacks alongside railway tracks in Delhi, without any prior consultation with those affected.

On 31 August, the Supreme Court issued an eviction order for around 48,000 households living near the railway tracks in the capital, giving the occupants three months to leave. None of those affected appeared to have been consulted or heard by the Court beforehand, said Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

The independent expert also expressed concern that the Court had initially ruled that no one should be allowed to seek to overturn the eviction order.

“This amounts to a full-fledged denial of justice for the low income people living along the railway tracks,” said Rajagopal. “If this is maintained, India will squarely violate article 2.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights containing the core human rights principle that everyone can seek judicial relief against any decision she or he considered arbitrary.”

The expert furthermore warned that any eviction into homelessness would be a serious violation of human rights and of India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Rajagopal welcomed a second ruling by the Supreme Court to temporarily halt the eviction order, but said that the four weeks provided would be insufficient to develop any reasonable rehabilitation or relocation plan meeting international law standards in consultation with such a large number of households.

To avoid community spread of the COVID-19 virus, he called on the Government to install a ban on all evictions during the pandemic under its National Disaster Management Act or its Epidemics Act.

“While the relocation of some residents living in very close proximity to a railway track may be needed to protect them from potential railway accidents, any such eviction would only be compatible with international human rights law after a relocation plan is developed in consultation with the affected households and after alternative land or housing is made available to them in proximity to their current place of residence,” said Rajagopal.

Such relocation should however only be considered after the pandemic has been brought under control, as undertaking it now would expose not only those living in the railway safety zone to additional health risks.

Rajagopal called on the Supreme Court to reconsider the case in light of India’s international human rights obligations, noting that the Court has a strong reputation of having delivered several landmark human rights decisions.

The Special Rapporteur has contacted the Indian Government to clarify the issues in question and requested that his concerns are shared with the Supreme Court of India.

ENDS

Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. He took up his mandate in May 2020. Mr. Rajagopal is a Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. He is the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network at MIT. He has conducted over 20 years of research on social movements and human rights advocacy around the world focusing in particular, on land and property rights, evictions and displacement. He has a law degree from University of Madras, India, a masters degree in law from the American University as well as an interdisciplinary doctorate in law from Harvard Law School. He served as a human rights advisor to the World Commission on Dams, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. He has published numerous books and scholarly articles, including research reports on evictions, displacement, human rights and housing.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact Gunnar Theissen (+41 22 91 79321 / gtheissen@ohchr.org), or write to srhousing@ohchr.org.

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 91 79383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)
Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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