In 2017, government authorities in India destroyed almost 8,000 homes and forcefully evicted nearly 40,000 people, in the name of conservation. That’s more than 20 homes destroyed and 109 people evicted every day.
The figures come from a report release last month by the Delhi-based NGO Housing and Land Rights Network, which describes the evictions as “an alarming national crisis”.
In 2017, in India a total of 53,700 homes were demolished and more than 260,000 people were forcefully evicted.
These figures are based Housing and Land Rights Network’s research and information from partner organisations across India. The actual number of people evicted is likely to be even higher.
The Indian government produces no data on the number of people evicted.
Housing and Land Rights Network uses the following definition of forced evictions, from the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights:
The permanent or temporary removal against the will of individuals, families or communities from their homes or land, which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.
The report states that most of the conservation evictions were ordered by courts acting on public interest litigations:
Such cases, unfortunately, have pitted the environment against human rights, even though many of the forest-dwellers do not pose any threats and live in harmony with nature.
The report includes a table listing all the evictions – the conservation evictions are posted below.
The evictions include the following:
- April 2017: The Supreme Court of India ordered the removal of families living in Thatkola and Sargodu Reserve Forests in Karnataka. The state government demolished over 148 houses and destroyed cash crops in Thatkola Reserve Forest, and evicted 156 families from Sargodu Reserve Forest.
- April 2017: More than 2,000 people were evicted from areas around the Orang National Park in Assam under orders of the Gauhati High Court.
- November 2017: Acting on an order from the Gauhati High Court, the Government of Assam forcefully evicted 1,000 families belonging to the Bodo, Rabha,
Mishing, and other indigenous/tribal communities from the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary. Authorities used elephants to demolish homes and also resorted to violence and force, resulting in injury to four people. Schools and places of worship were also demolished. The affected families, who had been previously displaced by floods, were rendered homeless by this eviction.
- 2017: The Government of Assam evicted over 2,250 families, without resettlement, from the Kheropara Reserve Forest, Manas National Park, and Lahorijan Reserve Forest during the year.
- August 2017: Reports indicate that about 60 huts belonging to the Irular and Jenu Kurumbar adivasis (recognized as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups by the Indian government), situated in Vazhaithottam Village, Nilgiri District, Tamil Nadu were demolished. The local administration carried out the demolition under an order from the Madras High Court, dated 4 August 2017, W.P. No. 19465/2017, ostensibly to protect the ‘elephant corridor’ identified by the state government. The eviction was carried out in contravention of the objectives of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which provides safeguards against displacement of indigenous/tribal peoples from their traditional homes.
- 2017: The Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit, a part of the Maharashtra Forest Department’s Mangrove Cell, issued eviction notices to 6,000 low-income families in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai in 2017, with plans to demolish all houses by May 2018. In December 2017, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai demolished 800 houses in Ganpat Patil Nagar in Dahisar, as part of its ‘mangrove preservation’ efforts.
Housing and Land Rights Network notes that in almost all cases in the report, the authorities carrying out the evictions did not adhere to due process. Affected communities were not provided enough time to remove their belongings from their homes. Cash savings, jewellery, documents, school books and uniforms were destroyed along with the houses.
In many cases, the authorities did not even have a legal basis for the evictions.
The majority of those evicted have not been given new housing, or compensation. Most people evicted had to rebuild their homes or rent houses. Many were left homeless. In many cases, people were denied their rights on the false grounds that they are not “legal” residents.
The report states that,
The persistent discrimination against the country’s poor is further perpetuated in state policy. Several state governments continue to use the exclusionary tool of ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine whether an evicted family should be rehabilitated or not. Even when families have lived for many years at a site, if they fail to meet the state’s documentation requirements or happen to be omitted from state-conducted surveys, they are denied any form of relief or resettlement despite losing their homes, which are generally built incrementally, over years of hard work and investment.