In a relief to thousands of slum dwellers residing along the 140 km railway tracks in Delhi, the Centre informed the Supreme Court on Monday that they would not be removed till a final decision is taken by the government. A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde was informed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, that a final decision would be taken in consultation with the Railways, Delhi Government and the Urban Development Ministry.
The bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, recorded Mehta's assurance and said that no coercive action be taken against these slum dwellers for four weeks. The top court on August 31 had directed the removal of around 48,000 slum dwellings along the railway tracks in Delhi within three months and said there shall not be any kind of political interference in execution of the plan.
The apex court, which posted the matter for hearing after four weeks, was hearing the applications including the one filed by senior Congress leader Ajay Maken who has sought rehabilitation of these slum dwellers prior to their removal.
We are yet to take a decision in consultation with the Railways, the state government and the urban development ministry. Till then, no one will be evicted, Mehta told the bench, which posted the matter for hearing after four weeks. Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Maken, told the bench that status quo be maintained.
We are not ordering any status quo. The Solicitor General has already said that no action will be taken till a decision is taken and we have recorded it. We have adjourned the matter by four weeks, the bench said. Singhvi said some demolition has taken place on September 11 and today also.
That was not done under this order. It was done under different order, the solicitor general said. Singhvi and senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who appeared for one of the applicants, said their mikes were not unmuted during the hearing conducted through video-conferencing and the matter was over.
Does any of you know how this technology works. If you know then come and advise our technical team free of cost, the bench said in a lighter vein. The application filed by Maken has sought a direction to the Ministry of Railways, Delhi Government and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) to rehabilitate the slum dwellers prior to eviction/demolition of their dwellings.
It has also sought direction to the Ministry of Railways, Delhi Government and DUSIB to follow the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015 and the Protocol (for removal of Jhuggis) in letter and spirit. The application, filed through advocates Aman Panwar and Nitin Saluja, has said that subsequent to the August 31 order of the top court the Ministry of Railways has issued demolition notices and has fixed the demolition drive for September 11 and 14 in various slums in Delhi.
Referring to the COVID-19 situation in the country, it has said that in these circumstances, it would be highly risky to demolish the hutments/ jhuggis of more than 2,50,000 people without prior rehabilitation as they will be forced to move from place to place in search of shelter and livelihood.
Maken has said in his plea that since the slum dwellers were not parties in the case, either directly or in representative capacity, their stance and the relevant documents could not be brought before this court for its kind consideration. Maken and co-petitioner Kailash Pandit have said that they are filing the intervention application seeking additional directions for rehabilitation of the affected population prior to their displacement.
On August 31, the top court has directed that the slum dwellings will be removed in a phased manner. It had also restrained any court from granting any kind of stay with respect to removal of encroachments in the area and said in case any interim order is granted with respect to encroachments along railway tracks that shall not be effective.
The top court had said that 70 per cent of the requisite amount shall be borne by the Railways and 30 per cent by the State Government and the manpower be provided by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), Railways and agencies available with the Government, free of cost, and they will not charge it from each other.
On February 28, the top court had taken note of "heaps of plastic bags and garbage" lying on both sides of railway lines in outer Delhi region and asked Delhi government, civic bodies and Environment Pollution Control Authority to make a concrete plan for its removal. This issue had cropped up before the apex court which is hearing matters related to pollution in the Delhi-national capital region.