No coercive action against Sarojini Nagar slum dwellers for now; SC to hear plea again next week


The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Monday not to take any coercive action to remove the slum dwellers of New Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar area till it hears their plea for rehabilitation next week.

Seeking the Centre’s reply on an appeal filed by some of the residents, a bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy told Additional Solicitor-General KM Nataraj, “Deal with them humanely when you deal with them. As a model government, you can’t say you won’t have a policy to rehabilitate and simply throw them away. You are dealing with families…”

Fixing the matter for hearing next week, the bench told the additional solicitor- general, who appeared for the government, “Don’t precipitate till then”. The judges then recorded his submission that no coercive action would be taken in the meanwhile.

While taking up the matter, Justice Joseph referred to the notice issued to the slum dwellers and said, “Look at your notice. What we have found is you have said, hand it over, it’s government of India land. People from all over India go occupy lands, something they don’t have a choice with. They can’t afford the rates,” he said.

The bench pointed out that the residents said they had documents from the Election Commission to show that the shanties had been there for some time. But the additional solicitor-general replied that those documents did not give them any right to be on the government land.

As the bench wondered if the government could say so in the light of the Delhi High Court judgments dealing with the right of rehabilitation in such instances, the Centre then urged it to restrict the interim relief to the petitioners and not pass any order covering all the people in the slums.

“Please say as against the petitioners. They can’t espouse the cause of everyone in the garb of a PIL,” said the additional solicitor-general.

But the bench said that when it was examining the actions being taken and whether the Delhi High Court judgment was correct or not, it had implications for all people. “We are looking at documents which say they have been there since the nineties. Should it be that only these people be protected and not the others?” observed Justice Roy.

The additional solicitor-general said that the situation might vary from one resident to another.

But Justice Roy added, “When the court is examining the matter, we can’t let the issue be precipitated. If you have difficulty in saying it, we will say it. They are asking for a survey. You can’t overlook that”.

The bench told the additional solicitor-general that he might be right in saying that some of the residents might have come 40 years back, some 20 years back and some yesterday but asked whether that was enough to carry out demolition.

The petitioners, three of whom are minors, have challenged the Delhi High Court decision declining to interfere with an order refusing a prayer to direct rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, about 200 families.

Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Vikas Singh said, “We can’t just banish them. Where do you expect thousands of people to go? Some scheme has to be there.” He referred to the eviction of people from forest land in Haryana and said that even in that matter, the apex court had directed rehabilitation. Admitting that the people were indeed living in the area, he said, “We will have to go somewhere ultimately. They will have to live somewhere. They can’t be asked to vanish into thin air.”

The plea said the petitioners had been residing in the area since the 1980s and had the necessary documents to establish their residence. It also said the majority of the residents were below the poverty line and “removal of the slums will render” them “homeless, thereby violating their human rights as well as the fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of India”.

The plea also said that slums that had come into existence before January 1, 2006 were eligible for rehabilitation under the Delhi Slum Rehabilitation Policy, 2015. Stating that they did not intend to obstruct any development activity, the petitioners said they were only seeking rehabilitation as per the state policy.