In India, slums have been called various names; like Jhuggi, Gandi Basti/Maleen Basti (dirty slums) etc. Yet, they play a vital role in the development and the day-to-day functions of a city. The total slum population in India is around 65 million1 and the number of households in these slums is almost 14 million (as per the Census of India, 2011). According to the Human Development Report on the Bombay Municipal Corporation, by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), slums occupy about 6 per cent of the total Mumbai land. Whereas, for other metropolitan cities like Delhi (18.9 per cent), Kolkata (11.72 per cent) and Chennai (25.6 per cent); the ratio is much higher. In relation to this, the urban housing shortage, as estimated in 2012 by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, is 18.78 million. Slums in the urban space are the identity creator for the people living there. The slum dwellers continue to live their lives in the most inhumane and deplorable conditions, as the slums are marked by over crowdedness and without basic amenities. In India, it is very common to come across families continuing to reside at the same address in a city – the slums – for several generations.

With the introduction of market liberalization and privatization policies in the last 20 years, the Government of India has become highly intolerant towards slums. To pacify the aspirations of the new consumer-middle class, the government is fast transforming the urban landscape. In order to acquire prime urban land, slums are being removed under the banner of many state-initiated programmes like “city beautification” and “housing for urban poor,” etc. This prime land is later used for the construction of malls, entertainment centers, and commercial and residential spaces – all in the name of “public interest.” In India, there have been hundreds of cases where the slums have been brutally demolished, violating every human right.

It is estimated that Indian Railways is the biggest land owner in India. Across the country, a large number of slums are also situated on land owned by the Indian Railways, and the slum dwellers on these lands are termed as “encroachers”. No government housing policy is applicable to them and they face evictions without any prior notice or any provisions for alternate accommodation. Thousands of urban poor have been displaced from the Central Railway slums. Many have lost their lives, and yet, few have fought against the system. Recently, the issues of land rights for the urban poor gained a considerable amount of attention, but sadly, with less justice for them. Since these slums are settled on private or public land, they are always at the mercy of bulldozers.

The Indian Railways treats housing as a state subject. This means that the responsibility of rehabilitating the evicted slum dwellers lies with the particular state government, under whose jurisdiction the slum is located. Besides, Indian Railways does not have an existing Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) policy. However, according to the Government of Delhi’s R&R policy, the cost of relocation of slums that existed on Railway land in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT-D), prior to 1998, is to be borne by the Indian Railways. This approach has received approval from the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).

A similar agreement was carried out with the Government of Maharashtra under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), in which the Railways agreed to set aside some amount for the resettlement of families evicted due to the project. Though, the affected people not being provided with proper resettlement benefits and the undesirable impact on the evicted, is another story. In 1999, the Officer on Special Duty of the Railway Board circulated a letter to the Zonal Railways, which stated the need to address the issue of encroachments on Railway lands, owing to increasing urbanization and scarcity of land. The Board intended to do this by optimally utilizing the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, as well as The Railways Act, 1989. Section 147 of this Act stipulates that the Railway holds the authority to imprison trespassers and unauthorized occupiers for a period of up to six months, and/ or a fine of Rs. 1,000. Railway employees also have the authority to utilize the Railway Police Protection Force to produce trespassers before the Magistrate of the Railway Court. ‘Soft’ encroachments such as JJ clusters and vendors gain priority when evictions are to be carried out.

Live with dignity

Urbanisation, the process by which cities and towns grow and develop, has provoked its fair share of ‘by-products’. One of the most ‘persistent’ among them happens to be the pockets of poverty and neighbourhood decay, famously called ‘slums’ in most development writing. Slums grow because people are attracted from the countryside by the opportunities for work afforded by major cities. These workers have insufficient resources to live in the city itself, so they settle on the urban periphery often in dilapidated and unhealthy conditions. Cities and their wider urban settlements in developing economies are among the most unequal in the world in terms of income, health, and well-being.