Various governments and municipalities are fighting against illegal construction of structures on non-permitted land holdings. Recently, the demolition of the illegal portion of Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow at Bhadra in Mumbai has initiated a lot of controversies and discussions. In this case, the move from both the sides apparently seem to be politically motivated. However, this incident has again put forth one of the major problems in India – the problem of illegal constructions - which is beyond anyone’s political leniencies and requires a deep understanding and analysis.
Media reports state that about 50 lakh people live in unauthorised colonies across Delhi, which has a total population of nearly 1.2 crores. According to the 2011 Census, around 65.49 million Indians (around 5.4% of India’s population) are living in slums. Additionally, around 17.4% of the total urban Indian population is slum dwellers. In many cases, unauthorised slums are constructed along railway tracks, for instance, in West Bengal where several illegal encroachments have existed along railway tracks.
In an earlier interaction with BE, Safkat Alam, Joint Secretary of Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development (SHED), an organisation working for the empowerment of slum dwellers in and around Park Circus, a region in central Kolkata where there is a significant slum population living on encroached railway land, said, “The main reason behind the development of these slums in cities is unplanned urbanisation.” In Kolkata, a number of slums are located around Tiljala, Park Circus, Topsia, Tangra, and Narkeldanga. The roots of these slum dwellers can be traced to rural areas like Gosaba, Lakkhikantapur and Canning in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal and even to the state of Bihar. Alam further stated, “Many of them have been living by the railway tracks in their polyester homes near Park Circus for generations, their forefathers having moved from their distant rural houses in search of better livelihoods in urban areas.”
Inadequate planning and governance of local governments are resulting in various problems like growth of unauthorised colonies and illegally built structures. This situation is used by unscrupulous developers who lure people in search of a roof over their head and later leave them to face the consequences of buying into or living in an illegal building.
In the month of July this year, around 56 houses in East Delhi were demolished following an order by the Delhi High Court to remove illegal encroachments. According to officials, the houses occupied the 200-metre stretch near Angad Nagar, from the Khureji traffic signal to Chitra Vihar. Most houses were jhuggis that were later converted into concrete structures. The demolition drive during the pandemic had left the people on streets and this has raised the issue whether it is humane to demolish these structures during the pandemic when the government is itself instructing people to avoid mass gatherings. Also, most of the inhabitants were unemployed because of the pandemic and many worked as ragpickers.
In an interaction with The Indian Express, Padma, one of the residents said, “The government says people should not go out of their homes during corona, but we have been evicted in such a time. At least they should have allowed us to stay till the virus persists.” However, an EDMC spokesperson informed The Indian Express that the encroachment removal order was first given in 2015 by the High Court. Following that order, the residents moved to court. They were asked to establish their title suit in a lower court but the case was dismissed in 2019. He suggested that it would be wrong to say that they had no time.
A different problem persists in case of illegal structures. Several accidents have taken places in different parts of India because of these structures. For instance, last year, the collapse of an illegal five-storeyed building at Bhiwandi led to two deaths and five injuries. Also, over 500 people were left homeless. In such a scenario, the construction of illegal structures is a serious problem that the central and the state governments should act upon. Experts in this field believe that developers working on the construction of illegal buildings are responsible for putting financial and physical damage to investors and property buyers. These structures are often made in violation of municipal codes and safety rules and include the use of faulty building materials.
In case of unauthorised slums, people live there out of necessity. An article titled ‘Why demolishing slums in Indian cities is harmful to the lives and livelihoods of impoverished residents’ published in scholars.org suggests, “Rather than demolish slums, officials should recognise that the urban poor live in illegal slums out of necessity, grant them land rights, and encourage urban planners and real estate developers to build cheap affordable housing.” It further stated that to make such development less expensive for taxpayers, a portion of the land could be leased to real estate developers, who in turn would contribute to rehabilitation programmes. Once granted a legal right to the land, banks must be given incentives to advance long-term home loans to these economically marginalised sections.