IDIA Team Secures Interim Relief For Slum Dwellers With Calcutta HC Stay On Demolition And Eviction
In a significant victory for the public interest team at the Increasing Diversity By Increasing Access (IDIA), the Calcutta High Court on Friday granted an interim stay on slum demolitions in Kolkata’s Subhas Sarovar area.
Justice Ranjit Kumar Bag granted a stay for one week against the orders for demolition, which were issued in furtherance of a beautification project named ‘Rejuvenation Redevelopment of Subhas Sarobar, Kolkata (Phase-I), Beautification and allied works’.
The project is being undertaken by the Government of West Bengal Tourism Department, along with the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) and the Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT). It seeks to provide recreational facilities like food court, joggers-park, open-air theatre, and the like, while at the same time rendering around twenty-two families living there for more than a decade, homeless.
The Government’s decision has now been challenged by three of the slum dwellers, including octogenarian Shiv Shankar Ray, “being aggrieved by and dissatisfied with the extreme apathy and inaction on the part of the concerned authorities in performing their statutory duties”.
The Petition contends that the slum dwellers were being forced to leave the area, without any notice or rehabilitation scheme in place.
It, further, brings to the notice of the Court the inaction on the part of the Police Officials when approached with a complaint against the project. “…the complete apathy and inaction of the part of the police officials as well as representatives of the Respondents herein to the situation of the residents of the Subhas Sarovar area is a clear violation of their inalienable rights to life and shelter protected under the Constitution of India,” it submits.
Various representations were also made to the authorities, but to no avail. The slum dwellers were, in fact, threatened to vacate, stating that bulldozers will otherwise run their slums to the ground overnight.
The Petition, therefore, submits that this leads to a “direct and gross violation of the petitioners’ right to live with dignity which includes adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter”. It further contends that the authorities have acted arbitrarily, in violation of Articles 14, 19, 21 and 300A of the Constitution of India.
On these grounds, the Petition demands a direction to the Government to stop the demolition of the slum housing, as well as provide a rehabilitation plan with alternate accommodation for slum dwellers.
The IDIA team was lead by Founder and Managing Trustee Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer, and comprised of IDIA directors Arnab Roy, Kalpana Yadav and Svetlana Correya, along with fellow Abhay Jain, and volunteers from NUJS Kolkata and the Law Department at Kolkata University (including IDIA scholars Bankim Mandal and Rinju Kumari). Advocate Anirudh Chatterjee, assisted by Kushal Chatterjee, argued the matter pro bono.
The order comes in the wake of IDIA’s promising new public interest litigation initiative called P-PIL (Promoting Public Interest Lawyering). The key idea behind this initiative is to enable IDIA scholars to advocate for their communities and other public interest causes, whilst still in Law School. To this end, the scholars will work alongside IDIA student volunteers, directors, pro-bono lawyers, law faculty and various others, in order to synergistically achieve shared public interest outcomes.