INDIA: Calcutta High Court again violates fundamental rights of thousands through barbaric eviction order

An estimated 25,000 people are being evicted from their homes in Gobindpur Railway Colony, West Bengal, India beginning today, November 10. The eviction follows a court order passed on 9 September 2005 by the Calcutta High Court, in response to a petition filed by the Ganatantrik Nagrik Committee, a local organization ostensibly working for the environment, which complained that the occupants have been polluting the area. The residents’ appeal for the eviction to be postponed for a year was unsuccessful.

The Calcutta High Court has consistently and blatantly ignored the right to adequate shelter of thousands upon thousands of people in West Bengal. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has repeatedly drawn attention to the eviction of some 7000 persons from Bellilious Park in 2003 via a similar petition lodged by the same supposed environmental group. In that case the court did not even give the affected persons the right to be heard, but blinded and deafened itself to their pleas. Since the time of their eviction, most of the former park residents have been living in subhuman conditions and despite repeated attempts by the AHRC and local partner Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) to force some action from government authorities and non-governmental agencies alike, including Unicef, they have not obtained any compensation or rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the area being ‘polluted’ by the Bellilious Park population has never been ‘beautified’ as promised, but is still a parched and barren expanse that is reportedly soon due for commercial development. A similar fate now awaits the population of the railway colony, and perhaps the area of land it is occupying.

Like the Bellilious Park order, the latest eviction notice from the Calcutta High Court bespeaks its complete disregard for the most basic human rights of the country’s poor. Ironically, the eviction is purportedly for the purpose of saving a local pond, the Rabindra Sarovar, named after the famous poet Rabindra Nath Tagore: a man who was deeply concerned with the lives and needs of the ordinary people. The court instead appears to have nothing better to do than to facilitate the total degradation of thousands upon thousands of persons who are without anywhere to turn for redress in India’s degraded and decrepit judicial system. In fact, in doing so it is also ignoring the approach of the country’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, which since the 1985 Olga Tellis case, regarding the eviction of pavement dwellers in Mumbai, has emphasised the right to adequate shelter.

But the most important parallel between the Bellilious Park case and the latest eviction, and the real reason for both, is this: the majority of evictees in each case are Dalits, so-called ‘untouchables’. For the elite members of the court, these persons are not even humans. In the minds of the high court judges in Calcutta, they are less than humans; less even than animals. This is the only explanation as to why the court repeatedly disregards all of their fundamental rights to a hearing, why it so callously and shamelessly permits mass evictions of such proportions and violence, so as to cause such immense suffering, misery and degradation.

The fear of ‘pollution’ about which the Ganatantrik Nagrik Committee is appealing, and to which the high court is pandering, is not of the physical sort. The land pollution, water pollution and air pollution that are the blight of Calcutta are the result of non-functioning and careless civic administration. Rubbish dumps need to be cleared up, public toilets and sewage systems need to be cleaned out, and polluting vehicles need to be pulled from the roads. While none of these are done, slum dwellers, most belonging to marginalized and vulnerable groups, are repreatedly targeted for eviction, and denied the right to legal remedies. Is it not because the elite of West Bengal still carries with it the millennia-old fear of ritual pollution–some invisible, unidentifiable and irrational quality that makes these people in some way a threat to the rest of the society–that these evictions continue? Rather than maliciously condemning the lives and lifestyles of others, without regard to either reality or law, the judges of the Calcutta High Court ought to begin by cleaning their own dirty minds: stop making obscene orders for eviction without regards to the trauma and misery caused to the lives of thousands; recognise that the eviction of the Gobindpur Railway Colony will, like the Bellilious Park eviction before it, constitute a blatant denial of the rights to adequate shelter, food, equality, freedom from discrimination, and indeed, the right to life itself. Clean up the high court first.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-114-2005
Countries : India,