The Delhi high court in Shakur Basti case announced “forced” and “unannounced” eviction of slum dwellers without following proper guidelines is contrary to the law citing the concept of Right to the City (RTC).
SC observation and Judgment:
- The rapid growth of Indian cities, combined with unclear land ownership, has triggered legal disputes and the forced eviction of poorer communities of nearly 5000 slum dwellers of Shakur Basti in Delhi in Dec 2015. Many of them claimed that they had lived there for two decades.
- HC ruled that slum dwellers should only be removed from a settlement if rehabilitation at the different location is feasible and they must be given adequate time to move if it is not.
- The demolition was “contrary to the requirements of the law and the Constitution” as it had taken place without prior survey.
- Court acknowledged that slum dwellers contribute to the social and economic life of the city.
- In light of the Shakur Basti case, the Delhi High Court directed that Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board frame a draft protocol in consultation with other land-owning agencies for a uniform approach with regard to all jhuggis and bastis in Delhi
Concept of Right to City:
- The concept was first developed by French sociologist Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le droit à la ville. He defines the Right to the city as a right of no exclusion of urban society from qualities and benefits of urban life.
- The right to the city is defined as the right of all inhabitants present and future, to occupy, use and produce just, inclusive and sustainable cities, defined as a common good essential to the quality of life. The right to the city further implies responsibilities on governments and people to claim, defend, and promote this right.
- It is an extension and an elaboration of the core elements of the right to shelter and helps understand the broad contours of that right.
Pillars and components of the right to the city:
- Spatially just resource distribution:
- The right to the city envisions a socially and spatially distribution and planning of material resources, ensuring good living conditions across the human settlement continuum such as:
- Public space and the urban commons;
- Investments in gender responsive services (e.g. water, electricity, waste, and sanitation);
- Appropriate, accessible, affordable and gender responsive transportation system;
- Appropriate and dignified housing and settlements;
- Equitable livelihoods, opportunities, and decent jobs, including solidarity and
- circular economy initiatives;
- Political agency:
- The right to the city is realized only when structures, processes, and policies enable all inhabitants as social and political actors to exercise the full content and meaning of citizenship.
- In this regard, specific policies are required to ensure that women, as well as marginalized groups, have effective access to political agency
- Socio-cultural diversity:
- The right to the city fully embraces diversity and difference in gender, identity, ethnicity, religion, heritage, collective memory, cultural and economic practice, and socio-cultural expression.
- This pillar calls for the recognition of culture, neighboring, and stake-holding as a lever for social cohesion, social capital, innovation, safer cities, self-expression, and identity.
Legal basis of the right to the city:
- The Right to the City encompasses all civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as enshrined in existing international human rights treaties, covenants, and conventions.
- It is not exactly a new right as it envisions the effective fulfillment of all internationally agreed human rights, sustainable development objectives (as expressed through the Sustainable Development Goals) and the commitments of the Habitat Agenda.
- In accordance with the Vienna Declaration (1993), it calls for a universal, interdependent, and interrelated implementation to human rights.
- The right to the city does not impose new human rights obligations on member states as it is not a new human right.
- It rather provides a framework which boosts the implementation of already existing human rights in cities and human settlements, together with territorial and environmental objectives.
- The right to the city is also similar in nature to cultural and natural heritage rights, as enshrined in international conventions, which acknowledge diffuse rights
- The right to the city is not limited to urban areas, but applies to all cities and human settlements, from large metropolitan areas, to cities, towns, villages and small rural settlements. In fact, the term “city” is understood as “local political community”.
Domestic Obligations: Several articles of India’s constitution are especially significant for the RTC.
- Articles 19 and 20 concern core areas of the RTC, namely the right to migrate to the city, the right to work and the right to adequate housing in the city.
- Article 21 provides that no person be deprived of his or her life and personal liberty.
- The Supreme Court affirms that the right to life necessarily implies access to basic amenities. To that end, the right to adequate housing is a constitutional guarantee. Because the practice of forced eviction results in the loss of livelihood, it is a prima facie transgression of Article 21.
- In addition, Article 14 and 15 guarantee substantive equality, obliging the state to take affirmative action in facilitating opportunities for the disadvantaged and prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
International law on the right to adequate housing
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR): The CESCR identified the steps to be taken immediately and must give due priority to those social groups living in unfavorable conditions. India has ratified this convention in 1976.
- The Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements: Adopted at the United Nation‘s Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996. It endorsed ―the universal goals of ensuring adequate shelter for all and making human settlements safer, healthier and more reliable, equitable, sustainable and productive.
- New Urban Agenda: Adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador on 20 October 2016.
- All United Nations Member States endorsed the New Urban Agenda and committed to work together towards a paradigm shift in the way cities are planned, built, and managed.
- Preceding the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, a Habitat III Policy Unit Right to the City, and Cities for All‟, was formed to provide inputs into formulation of the Agenda.
Impact of Right to City:
- A city with inclusive economies that ensures access to secure livelihoods and decent work for all inhabitants including women.
- A sustainable city that respects rural-urban linkages, and protects biodiversity, natural habitats, and surrounding ecosystems, and supports city-regions, city-town cooperation, and connectivity.
- A city with quality public spaces that enhances social interactions and political participation, promotes socio-cultural expressions, embraces diversity, and fosters social cohesion; a city where public spaces contribute to building safer cities and to meeting the needs of inhabitants (especially those related to livelihoods).
- A city fulfilling its social functions, that is, ensuring equitable access for all to shelter, goods, services and urban opportunities, particularly for women and other marginalized groups.
- A city free of discrimination based on gender, age, health status, income, nationality, ethnicity, migratory condition, or political, religious or sexual orientation.
- A city of gender equality which adopts all necessary measures to combat discrimination in all its forms against women, men, and LGBT people in political, social, economic and cultural terms
Global Best Practices:
- Right to housing in South African Constitution: The State is obliged to take into confidence the affected groups about the schemes for rehabilitation.
- Brazil: Brazil is one of the few countries in the world having explicitly adopted the right to the city (together with Ecuador). The objective of the City Statute is to give municipal governments the power to foster the utilization of underused or vacant lots that are important for city development.
- Egypt: The 2014 Constitution guarantees several specific rights such as citizens’ right to adequate, safe and healthy housing in a manner that preserves human dignity and achieves social justice.
- Urban planning should incorporate mixed land use, promote hawkers and night markets, and improve infrastructural facilities such as accessibility to public toilets, street lighting and public transport in cities.
- In terms of urban governance, “more women friendly police” or more police women on the streets are required. Public spaces such as parks should be made safe for women. Also, women need to play a greater role in urban planning and development.
- The problem of poor sanitation is another major issue and should be addressed on a priority basis. Only 63% of urban population has access to sanitation facilities. Sanitation is closely linked to hygiene, public and individual health, and gender issues.
- Internal migration in India for employment purposes, often from poor rural areas to urban areas, is said to be around 52% of the total migration. Migrants’ right to the city is important in the sense that they actually benefit the city by bringing in new skills, cheap labor and a willingness to work at low wages.