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Homelessness During The COVID-19 Pandemic

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the removal of 48,000 slum clusters located within safety zones along railway tracks in Delhi within three months. These are to be removed in a phased manner within three months, the court said, while also cautioning against "interference, political or otherwise" with its order. The Supreme Court issued similar orders for the clearing of all waste and garbage, ordering stakeholders - from the Railways to the Delhi government and its municipal corporations to meet next week.

Source: Business Upturn

The court also directs stakeholders to prepare a comprehensive plan for removal of jhuggies (slum clusters). The Court said: “There is predominant presence of jhuggis in Delhi along with 140km route length of railway track in the region of NCT {national capital territory} of Delhi… Out of this, about 70km route length of the track is affected by large jhuggi-jhopri clusters existing in close vicinity of the tracks.”

These slums are all located alongside railway tracks and densely populated, with open drains and narrow alleys. Many slum dwellers have lost their jobs and livelihood during the lockdown. Some chose to head back to their villages, and others stayed back looking out for daily-wage work. The loss of shelter amidst a health emergency is the final nail in the coffin. Looking for a new place to stay exposes them to the virus. The Supreme Court also involved the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board to prepare an action plan to enable rehabilitation of people who face eviction.

“If we are rehabilitated in packed rooms with others, can the government agencies assure that none of the residents would get the coronavirus disease? In the slum, we at least have the safety of our homes. We are poor, but we can at least isolate ourselves to some extent,” said Rajan Jha, resident of a slum cluster along the rail tracks near the Mayapuri industrial area.

The fear of getting infected is a top concern that should have been thought about. India is setting a new record almost every day in the number of cases. Such a decision should have been delayed by the court keeping the safety and health of everybody in mind. The insensitive order comes at the time when the cases are at their peak. The rehabilitation system should present with a proper plan to the court before the beginning of this process so as to avoid displacement and loss of life. Every resident of the slums being removed must get a new place to stay without having to worry. It is imperative that the authorities must step up to help with full force to prevent mishappenings. Another issue with reallocation is the loss of livelihood yet again. Many residents of the slums work in nearby factories, homes or set up their shops. Reallocation would lead to the loss of their jobs which will result in no income for the household. “Work is slowly picking up pace now. Relocation shall leave us jobless and hungry again”. (Source: Hindustan Times)

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