Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Human rights experts at the United Nations have called on the Indian government to stop the eviction of nearly 1,00,000 people, including 20,000 children and 5,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women, from Faridabad’s Khori Gaon in Haryana, which was designated as a protected forest in 1992.
The local administration, which began its demolition exercise last week amidst the current monsoon season, aims to completely raze down the settlement by July 19, after the Supreme Court had failed to provide relief to residents who moved the court against the evictions and demolition.
“We appeal to the Indian government to respect its own laws and its own goal of eliminating homelessness by 2022 and to spare homes of 100,000 people who mostly come from minority and marginalised communities. It is particularly important that residents be kept safe during the pandemic,” a statement issued by UN human rights experts on Friday, July 16, stated.
They said that the ongoing demolition and eviction would put the residents at greater risk, who have already been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Khori Gaon is a protected forest area, the statement said, the forest was actually destroyed by heavy mining carried out by authorities even before the settlement came up. Nearly 2,000 homes were demolished earlier in September last year and April this year. Residents who moved the Supreme Court against the eviction notices received a setback as the court last month ordered the removal of the settlement by 19 July.
“We find extremely worrying that India’s highest court, which has in the past led the protection of housing rights, is now leading evictions placing people at risk of internal displacement and even homelessness, as is the case in Khori Gaon,” the UN human rights experts’ statement said.
“The role of the Supreme Court is to uphold the laws and to interpret them in light of internationally-recognised human rights standards, not to undermine them. In this case, the spirit and purpose of the Land Acquisition Act 2013, among other domestic legal requirements, have not been met.”
The UN statement also lamented that water and electricity to the settlement were cut off several weeks ago, besides police beating up human rights defenders and residents protesting against the eviction.
“We call on India to urgently review its plans for razing Khori Gaon and to consider regularising the settlement so as not to leave anyone homeless. No one should be forcibly evicted without adequate and timely compensation and redress,” the statement added.
The statement was signed by UN human rights’ experts Balakrishnan Rajagopal, special rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defender; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; and Koumbou Boly Barry, special rapporteur on the right to education.