Two law students namely Areeb Uddin Ahmed and Shivansh Saxena have sent a letter petition to the Chief Justice of India urging it to modify and reconsider its order dated August 31, 2020 in the case of MC Mehta v. Union of India, whereby a Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had ordered removal of jhuggis near the New Delhi area, to address environment related issues.
The letter, sent on behalf of law students of ICLU, highlights that by ordering evacuation of jhuggi-jhopdis in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Top Court has "threatened the lives" and "refused to protect the intertwined rights" of the poor.
It is stated that the 'right to shelter' and 'livelihood' is a facet of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, as decided long ago in Oliga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation,  2 Supp SCR 51. However, the order dated August 31 sets a bad precedent and blatantly violates the rights of slum dwellers, who have been residing there since ages.
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The letter petitioners drew the Court's attention to its verdict in PG Gupta v. State of Gujarat and Ors, (1995 Supp. (2) SCC 182), whereby it was held that the Right to shelter in Article 19(1)(g) read with Articles 19(1)(e) and 21 include the 'right to residence' and 'settlement'.
It was further observed in PG Gupta (supra) that it is imperative of the State to provide "permanent housing accommodation" to the poor in the housing schemes undertaken by it or its instrumentalities within their economic means.
"The order made in this case should altered and reconsidered in the view of the pandemic coupled with the plight of these dwellers. There might be a possibility that some of these jhuggies belong to those migrants who have been working as migrant workers in Delhi, but now when they have marched back to their native states 'on foot', they might be in a state of helplessness when they found out that their shelter has been evicted and demolished without even giving them a fair hearing," they thus wrote.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered removal of 48000 slum dwellings around a 140-km railway track in Delhi, within three months. The bench further ordered that there would be no stay on its order by any other court.
SC Orders Removal Of 48,000 Slum Dwellings Around Delhi Rail Tracks In 3 Months; Stops Courts From Granting Stay
The letter petitioners have pointed out that not only the order violates the right to life of thousands of poor but the same was passed in absolute violation of the natural justice principle— Audi Alteram Partem.
"What horrifies us is the plight of these poor dwellers who have been denied the right to be heard before the court.
…the other party has not been considered, heard or acknowledged," they wrote.
They have thus urged the Court to give the affected population a chance of 'fair hearing'.
They have also requested the Court to issue appropriate directions to the concerned authorities, so as to provide fair and adequate compensation to the evicted dwellers.
It is submitted that under the Delhi Slum and JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy, 2015 there are certain conditions which have been prescribed for those who are residing in Jhuggies. For instance, JJ clusters which have come up before 01 January 2006 cannot be removed without rehabilitation.
Further, in the case of Ajay Maken v. Union of India, (2015) 7 SCC 1), it was observed that there should be "efficient arrangements" made by the authorities before such eviction proceedings take place.
Reference is also made to a Delhi High Court's judgment in Sudama Singh (upheld twice by the Supreme Court), whereby it was held that prior to carrying out any eviction, it is the duty of the state to:
(i) conduct a survey of all persons facing evictions to check their eligibility under existing schemes for rehabilitation, and
(ii) carry out a rehabilitation exercise 'in consultation with each one of them [persons at risk of an eviction] in a meaningful manner.'
"But here, in this case the Hon'ble Court has failed to acknowledge the plight of these poor dwellers who have been residing in those Jhuggies since generations. And there might be a possibility that majority of the population is living there prior to 2006, which places a duty on the authorities to determine the status of those jhuggies," the letter states.
In this backdrop it is prayed as under:
Lastly, they have asserted that considering the critical situation created by a global pandemic, the court should give some amount of relief to these slum dwellers.
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