New Delhi: Amid the rising number of coronavirus cases, over 3.5 lakh slum dwellers in Delhi are worried about their homes. In August this year, the Supreme Court had ordered the removal of almost 48,000 slum dwellings spread over 140 km of railway tracks in the national capital within three months. The court has also stopped any court from passing an order of stay against such removal.

After this order, senior Congress leader Ajay Maken and 11 slum dwellers filed applications and asked the top court not to remove close to 2.4 lakh dwellers till alternate housing is provided to them. In September, the Centre had informed the court that no demolition action will commence till a decision of rehabilitation is in place by the Indian Railways, Ministry of Urban Development, and Delhi government. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has also worsened the situation. These people who are living here for more than two decades have lost their jobs due to the lockdown.

However, if no proper planning is proposed, the move will result in lakhs of people ending up on the roads during the ongoing pandemic. According to reports, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) has informed Northern Railway that it has 29,257 constructed flats, but these will only be available by March next year.

“The one-month period order by the Supreme Court has already passed. CM Arvind Kejriwal had written a letter to DUSIB, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Railways, and demanded that there shouldn’t be any eviction before rehabilitation plans. We also wrote to Railways and said that we have houses and we can accommodate them if the Railways is ready to share the cost. We proposed that DUSIB, the slum dwellers, and railways should share the cost. The slum dwellers will have to pay Rs 1.12 lakh share. But the Railways hasn’t responded to our proposal yet,” Bipin Rai, a member of the DUSIB, told The Sunday Guardian.

The DUSIB member also said that the Centre has called a meeting on the matter on 10 November.

“We also have to think about the families in these 48,000 households. These families must be having kids and some of them will be having board examinations in March. Evicting all these people within three months is not practical. We will have to survey first, check their eligibility, like how they are living and for how long, and make documentations and then only can we go on to the shifting process. Three months is nothing; we need almost a year to complete this process. Our CM also emphasized a one-year time period and hearing on this is due. In these cases, the courts also should have a practical approach. There is a proper protocol that we will have to follow. Last year, when we were surveying the whole of Delhi, DDA stopped us and said that don’t survey on Central government’s land. If the survey would have been complete, then we would have the data of the slum dwellers near the railway track. We could have rehabilitated them quickly. We are waiting for directions after the meeting,” Bipin Rai said. The Sunday Guardian reached out to officials of the Northern Railways and AAP leader Raghav Chaddha, but didn’t receive any response till the time the story went to the press.

According to reports, the Indian Railways had argued that these settlements were generating tonnes of solid and plastic waste around the tracks and have to be removed to check environmental degradation.

In October 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had passed an order for removal of all such encroachments. The Supreme Court had passed the eviction order on 31 August this year after Indian Railways informed the court that though a special task force has been formed to remove encroachments, political interference was coming in the way.