This report is in response to the affidavit filed by the state of Haryana, particularly paragraph 7, where the planning involved in the demolition drive has been discussed. Even though the affidavit acknowledges that the planning has to consider the large population and the huge humanitarian angle, the Supreme Court’s latest orders have been used as a weapon against the entire basti that has been legally fighting in courts from 2012. We would like to highlight the violations in due process in evictions and rehabilitation under each point as per the affidavit.
1) Interaction with the residents for giving possession of the subject Forest land to government and removal of their belongings
An order was issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Faridabad on June 8, giving the residents less than 24 hours, stating that the process of eviction would start on June 9, 2021, at 6:00 am. The notices were put up in very few places in Khori Gaon. Most of the residents are uneducated and hence could not read the eviction notice. The SC orders caused a lot of panic among the residents as nothing was communicated to them about rehabilitation or temporary accommodation. A week after the SC orders of July 7, the CM of the state, ML Khattar, stated at a press conference that those residents with Haryana voter IDs would be given housing in the EWS flats built by the state government. But this was not elaborated by any state agency to the residents of Khori Gaon, and so the residents kept waiting for future announcements. Several resident groups had also approached various political and government officials to clarify the process of evictions and rehabilitation. But there was no such clarification.
The residents are the urban poor from the NCT and have bought the land from the dodgy sellers who have been operating in this area. The state government of Haryana has also acknowledged this by filing FIRs against such sellers of public land recently after some of them were named by the residents of Khori Gaon. Residents have even highlighted the nexus between the cops, forest officials and land mafia. A large section of the residents have identity cards from Delhi and have even voted in Delhi elections. Yet, the Delhi government has not been involved in any of the court discussions. Despite having been duped by such land operators of their life’s savings and having nowhere else to go with their families in this time of COVID pandemic, the notice just informed the resident’s of Khori Gaon that they would be evicted from their homes without mentioning anything about temporary accommodation or rehabilitation.
- The Deputy Commissioner of Faridabad had also given instructions to Deputy Divisional Officer Badkhal, Joint Commissioner NIT Range Faridabad, Secretary Municipal Corporation Faridabad and a march past was carried on by the police in the settlement, asking people to evacuate immediately. The state administration also made some announcements that the area will be demolished, and the residents were advised to leave with their belongings. From time to time, bulldozers were stationed outside the basti in large numbers to scare the residents. Officials also undertook small-scale demolitions on foot. But in the absence of any announcement of a rehabilitation plan in these announcements or the provision of any temporary accommodation, the residents were confused and clueless about where they were supposed to go. Some residents even went looking for rentals in nearby areas and came back despondent because they found very few accommodations available during COVID, and the rents were simply unaffordable for them.
- The panicked stricken residents began to organise meetings in the basti to discuss the next steps, and they came out to protest with activists non violently. But the police have resorted to brutal lathi-charge and imposed section 144 on 15 June to prevent these meetings and stop any form of mobilising. The entire basti was barricaded by the police because of which no vegetable vendors, water tankers or any other service could reach them. Electricity connections to the area were cut off, and the basti, which is at the foothills of the Aravallis and has an undulating terrain because it was previously a mining area, was enveloped in darkness at night. These were the hottest and humid days of the season, and the lack of electricity and water affected young children and older people’s health. News reports mentioned many had committed suicides as they felt helpless, and an elderly had lost his life due to the unbearable conditions without electricity and water. Residents had to walk for 4 kms sometimes to fetch water in pots and bottles.
- During these days, the basti residents had confrontations with the police every day. Mobile towers near the area were removed because the administration felt that residents were communicating with activists and the media about their condition. Without mobile connectivity and electricity, the studies of students came to a complete halt. Their futures are already seriously compromised. Many residents and activists were arrested by the police. While the earlier arrests involved locking them in jail until the end of the day and releasing them after that, later, the police started fabricating falses cases against the residents and arresting them. In many cases, residents and activists were held in undisclosed locations for hours and days without access to lawyers. On 30 June, 400 residents were booked for a gathering.
- The media has also been barred from covering the news throughout this phase. Moreover, on June 30, when the residents had gathered for a meeting and once the demolitions started on 14 July and reporters reached the location, the police adopted violent tactics to stop them from recording the demolitions and speaking to the residents. There has been a deliberate attempt to block any information about what has been happening in Khori Gaon through threats and intimidation. The Twitter timelines of some of the reporters covering the Khori Gaon issue give information about the police’s violent behaviour against the media. The threats to the reporters and police’s tactics involving locking them to stop them from reporting were even condemned by the international committee to protect journalists. They released a statement that “Indian authorities should cease harassing and obstructing members of the press covering protests and demolitions in Khori Gaon, in Haryana state, and ensure that they can report freely”.
- Throughout the last month, the police’s behaviour towards the residents has been increasingly aggressive and inhuman, using excessive force and causing grievous injuries. They have continuously threatened and beaten them and often barged into their houses without asking for permission. Police have also occupied the beds and sitting places within their small rooms to take refuge from the heat and rain, while the scared residents either left the rooms or huddled in a corner. The weather in the dry hills of Khori Gaon is scorching, and the chances of heat strokes are very high because of the rising temperature. The police have taken breaks for lunch, water and tea during the demolitions. But for the residents, the bodily torture and the fear of losing their homes has been relentless. Due to the police blockades and section 144, no aid could be distributed to them in the first few days. Whenever the residents tried resisting the demolition of their homes out of desperation or were collecting their belongings before the demolition, police resorted to lathi-charge to disperse them and injured them; many of them were women.
- On July 13, a press conference was held by the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad, where a rehabilitation scheme was announced with conditions for eligibility. Less than 24 hours after the rehabilitation press conference, on July 14, the state agencies and the Police began the most brutal form of demolitions in Khori Gaon. This was also the day the monsoon reached these parts. From 8.00 am onward, a heavy deployment of police and officials was present at Khori Gaon and started demolishing the houses. Police used drones to locate where residents had gathered and used force to disperse them. When the residents resisted demolitions, they were mercilessly beaten. In some cases, women were dragged by their hair when they refused to move from their homes. Men were hit and pushed against walls.
- The human rights violations were also highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteurs who said that, “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 1,00,000 people who mostly come from minority and marginalised communities. It is particularly important that residents be kept safe during the pandemic.” They further added, “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 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.”
2) To facilitate the residents, transport their belongings by providing to them transport
- While the Haryana government has claimed that they will provide transport to residents for moving their belongings, the biggest issue has been completely avoided. Where will the residents go? These are urban poor who have either used their life’s savings or sold everything in their villages to buy plots in Khori Gaon. A lot of them also had lost their jobs during COVID. Most residents had no money left. During every announcement made in Khori Gaon, police threatened people to leave; however, no one heard the residents’ grievances.
- Khori Gaon residents informed us that they were not provided with a transport facility from the government’s side. Instead, those who could afford had to make their own arrangements, often paying a huge amount. Additionally, they had to also deal with the threats and violence inflicted upon them by the police even when they complied with the instruction to leave with their belongings.
3) To make provision for temporary shelter for those who would be in need of such a support
By the end of July, most of the areas in Khori Gaon has been demolished. The residents who were rendered homeless have been spending nights exposed to the weather conditions without a roof and defecating in the open. Municipal Corporation of Faridabad had earlier claimed that food and accommodation arrangements had been made at Radha Swami Satsang Bhavan. On 26 July a board was put in Khori Gaon saying accommodation and food are available at Radha Sawami on a temporary basis. However, until July 28, no accommodation arrangements were made there. Even the food that is being distributed at the Radha Swami Satsang Bhavan is being provided by the management through their distribution programme that is open to anyone who visits the Satsang Bhavan. The government has not made this arrangement, particularly for Khori Gaon residents, and neither does the religious institute have the capacity to feed the huge number of residents who have been rendered homeless. On a daily basis, they have been only able to feed a maximum of 50 people. As the location is far from Khori Gaon and no accommodation arrangements were made there for the longest time, on most days, barely anyone went even to consume food. Hence the residents have been relying on NGOs and other institutes for their food needs.
After the police made the announcement for temporary accommodation on July 28, few of the residents went there to stay. However, they were unable to stay since the area available for staying was the same hall that was used for distributing food, and the residents were warned that it was only available for 10-15 days maximum. According to the residents, the hall was 200 gaz and could barely accommodate ten families. With no partition walls and only two toilets that had to be shared among the inhabitants, it would have been very inconvenient for the females and children. First, the area available for the temporary accommodation would not even house 0.03% of the population who were being rendered homeless during a pandemic. Second, the arrangement was only for a few days as this was not made by the government but provided by the Radha Swami Satsang Bhavan, who clearly mentioned they would not allow the residents to stay for more than 10-15 days. Third, the accommodation did not pay attention to the privacy needs of the residents. Asking them to stay in an open hall with only 2 toilets to be shared among women, men, children, is unacceptable.
Hence, this is as good as not providing any alternative housing or even a temporary transit. While the lack of any temporary accommodation has been difficult for everyone, it has been particularly severe for women, children and the elderly. Many of the residents have existing health ailments, and some are disabled. A huge number of residents are single mothers with children. Most of the residents have no savings due to the long pandemic, loss of jobs, and extended lockdowns. Since the demolition drive also destroyed most of their belongings, they also do not have any provisions for cooking. As a result, a lot of them have been staying hungry for the last few days.
(For testimonies of women residents pls see video recording of a public hearing on Khori Gaon on https://m.facebook.com/NAPMindia/ The residents speak from 1:11:28 to 1:53:33)
As mentioned above, the food being served by Radha Swami Satsang Bhavan has not been accessible to the residents. Hence, they have been relying on food provided by the relief workers. However, relief workers were also prevented from the distribution of food and water and threatened with arrest by the police regularly. During one time, residents were even being prevented from going to the medical store despite the fact that many have fallen sick, living out in the open during the monsoon rains amid the demolished ruins of their homes. Even pregnant women and the elderly are not being provided with a place to sit; instead, their chairs and sitting places are being forcefully taken away by the police. Police have even gone so far as to overturn containers in which food was being distributed.
While the residents have been living in such dire conditions, the mafia has been coming to steal material from the broken homes like reinforcement bars, windows, doors, bricks, steel etc. and selling it outside. Whenever the residents tried to stop the mafia and protect their belongings, they were beaten and injured badly with knives. Some of these residents are not in any condition to move because of the grave injuries, and few might not even survive. The entire area has become unsafe for the women, especially as they have to resort to open defecation and stay without any shelter.
From July 14, when the demolitions had started, police have been urging residents to fill forms for rehabilitation. The first issue that cropped up here was that registering does not imply eligibility for rehabilitation. Second, the residents have not been given any rehabilitation card, evictee card or any other document to record that they have filled any form. Thirdly, after close to 700 registration was done, the police have stopped any further registration.
Hence, there is no provision for temporary accommodation or food by the Haryana government. By not providing any record of the registration done and arbitrarily stopping the registration process, the government has not followed the due process that it is supposed to follow during eviction and rehabilitation.
4) To take measures under COVID protocol for the people who would be handing over the subject forest land as well as the officials involved in the demolition drive
At the time the order of June 7 was passed, Haryana was still under partial lockdown. None of the residents had been vaccinated against covid, and many families were already in a state of near-starvation as most families had lost their jobs or sources of income. The earning members of many families had died or were very ill, and residents had little help from the government for hospitalisation and medical treatment. Many widows were struggling to cope with providing food for their children. School and college going students were finding it hard to attend classes on mobile phones as they could not pay for their mobile connections. They had been unable to grieve the death of their family members because the threat of evictions was looming over their heads.
Forced eviction during a pandemic directly violates the COVID-19 Guidance Note announced by the United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Leilani Farha, in April 2020.
It states that “[h]ousing has become the frontline defence against the coronavirus. Home has rarely been more of a life or death situation…States must take the following urgent measures, in keeping with their human rights obligations: Declare an end to all forced evictions of informal settlements and encampments…Ensure all residents of informal settlements/encampments have access to an adequate, affordable and proximate supply of water, toilets, showers, sanitation services, soap, hand sanitiser, disinfectants, and masks. In communities with limited access to local water supply, water tankers and equipment to create boreholes must be urgently provided…”
Evictions during a pandemic are not only inconsistent with the ‘stay home’ policy but forced evictions are a violation of international human rights law, including the right to housing. Not providing any temporary accommodation, toilets, water and food is as good as a death sentence during any time; forget a pandemic.
 Vibhu on Twitter: “The Indian state is terrorising lakhs of people since the last 1 month at Khori Gaon by not only demolishing their homes, but making sure to harass them in everyway possible. Arbitrary arrests, police brutality if anyone tried to save their home and family, and surveillance,(1/n) https://t.co/zYypCu0SoW” / Twitter
 Naomi Barton on Twitter: “One of the most grotesque things I saw when I was there was that the police were lying down and relaxing in the same houses they’re going to demolish. Because the heat is dangerously unbearable. But the people who have worked to make these houses are thrown out. https://t.co/1hmn1B4b4Z” / Twitter
 Dr. Leena Dhankhar on Twitter: “Faridabad policeman deployed in plain clothes thrashed a #Khori village resident who fell unconscious after his head was hit into the half construed wall @HTGurgaon @htTweets #assault #victim https://t.co/zXk1vusZVU” / Twitter