The recent eviction of over 1500 Economically Weaker Section (EWS) households from Ejipura in Bangalore (see here, here and here) to make way for a high-end mixed-use development (with some EWS housing for “original residents”) is just one a series of millennial evictions that have scarred the landscape of Indian cities and yet another instigated by an order of a High Court. Below are seven quick propositions on how to understand these evictions, how to respond in the immediate and near-term.
One: the “illegality” of the Ejipura settlement has to be seen in the context of a larger failure of the state to build adequate and legal EWS housing. The Kundu Committee Report 2012 states that India, overall, has a housing shortage of about 19million housing units. Of this, no less than 95% is in the EWS and LIG category. There is, then, a systematic failure to build enough housing the poor can legally own or rent – is their occupation of vacant public land then “illegality” or the “impossibility of legality”?
Two: The move to label current Ejipura residents as “unauthorized occupants” and pit them against “original residents” is a strategic move to pit the poor against each other while distracting from the real question of the inadequacy of affordable, accessible and safe shelter that they can afford. Current Ejipura residents have resided in their homes for years – why does long-term rental from an “original allottee” (who may never have lived in Ejipura at all) bear no weight? Authorities often claim that original allottees need to be protected because EWS housing often passes on to non-poor, richer users. But the fact that current residents have all been given EWS cards by the municipality certifying that they qualify and are eligible for EWS category housing implies that there is no evidence of such fraud here. The EWS cards should be enough to qualify them to be part of any redevelopment scheme and refuse any charges of them being “fraudulent” or “ineligible” to participate in any redevelopment. Let us be clear: this move may well be motivated only to reduce significantly the number of households to be resettled — the number of “original allottees” will be significantly less than the number of current residents.
Three: The eviction and the exclusion of long-term current residents goes against the policy trends across the city, state and the centre to refuse forced evicitions to move towards in-situ upgrading. The Rajiv Awaas Yojana directly recognizes the right of all current residents (regardless of whether they are “original allottees” of any kind) to shelter in the city and upgradation. The emerging policy framework insists on a wide definition of inclusion of all current residents regardless of length of tenure in the city as long as they quality, as these residents do, in definitions of EWS and LIG housing.
Four: The lack of access to enough legal housing does not impact the poor alone. The rich also build illegal housing in a differeny way: the Unauthorised Colony. Yet when the illegality of the rich results in “regularization” through schemes like akrama sakrama and that of the poor results in forced eviction, is the selective application of law and planning just?
Five: When the local MLA says that there “is nothing he can do” against the order of the High Court, we must both contextualize and challenge this statement. The Executive arm of the state – the government and urban authorities – have long selectively fought or thrown their hands up in front of judicial orders. When the judiciary challenged the regularisation of illegal colonies of the rich or when (in Delhi) they attempted to “seal” illegal shops in residential and other areas to enforce planned use of the land, the executive did not claim there was “nothing they could do.” Instead, they took on the Court legally as well as passing ordinances, drafted new law and modified the relevant Master and Development plans to make new solutions possible. The decision not to explore any of the possible means of executive action is a conscious choice not to act as opposed to the helplessness professed by the MLA.
Six: Contravening current judicial precedence, international human rights obligations, and adherence to emerging local policy regimes, the eviction in Ejipura occurred before adequate alternative resettlement was in place. After tremendous public pressure, a resettlement site near Sarjapur Road may (and it is important to stress this “may”) be ready in “six to ten months.” The impact of such a transition on vulnerable families that are already further impoverished due to the shock of demolition can only be imagined. Further, experience from eviction in other Indian cities has shown that the “transit” from eviction sites to resettlement colonies can take no less than 19 years, or often, not happen at all.
Seven: The decision to use land that housed the poor – let us set aside for a moment whether they were or were not authorized – for a redevelopment towards higher-end residential and commercial use itself cannot escape scrutiny. The massive and increasing shortfall in housing for the poor that the Kundu Committee found did not create itself. It is created through multiple decisions to use urban land not for “low-value” uses such as housing the poor but “high value” uses like the proposed high-rent development in Ejipura. Fundamentally, here, there is a battle on how to value land: should its use be determined only by the rent it extracts and the market value it offers; or are other paradigms that measure its use as shelter, its possible impact on reducing deprivation and both present and inter-general poverty? Critically: how do we institutionalize these other measures of the value of land so that they may impact and govern our decisions on land use?
Why have Indian cities been unable to find integrated and holistic solutions to ensuring adequate shelter for all? One of the answers lies, perhaps, in an original sin: the absence of a right to housing, or even a right to shelter, in the Indian Constitution that can stand as a parallel, for example, to the Right to Education. The absence of such an articulated right implies that the Judiciary cannot draw upon a right against which to judge or base its decisions on housing; that the evicted residents of Ejipura can approach the government or the Courts asking for discretion rather than entitlements; that the state, as a whole, cannot be held accountable for not embracing new systems of land value that address the particularity of our housing bias and shortage; that we cannot hold state policies, budgets, and resource allocations against the standard of how they move us towards more inclusive housing the way we can for education.
Countries that face inequalities similar to ours – South Africa and Brazil most notably – have articulated rights to housing in their constitutions. The presence of such a right has made possible innovations in these countries such as the new forms of inclusionary zoning (could Ejipura not have been re-classified as a “Zone of Special Social Interest” to make it legal and protect its residents?), new measures of land value in public budgeting and finance (how do we quantify the inter-generational developmental impact of even poor quality housing for the children of the Ejipura households and compare it to the rents and profits of redevelopment?), long-term investments and resource allocations in increasing housing stock (whether by the state, regulated through the market, or through regularisation of the housing stock the poor have already built for themselves!); or even land-banking to anticipate future migration into the city. The range of remedies are long and each is plausible and possible but each of these must fight against a conception of contemporary urban development that measures land and value only in terms of economic rent rather than human use. Fighting for the right to shelter maybe on paradigm on which this fight can begin.