Patna Metro project stuck again due to slum dwellers in Malahi Pakdi

Patna, India (Metro Rail Today): The incidence of evictions in the name of using land for public utility has increased in the past few years. According to a report released by the Housing and Land Rights Network in September, around 2,57,000 people were evicted for various  government projects between March 2020 and July 2021.

In 2021, 169,000 people were evicted and 24,400 homes demolished across the country till July 31, the report, Forced Evictions in India in 2020: A Grave Human Rights Crisis During the Pandemic, revealed.

One such recent case of eviction was reported at Malahi Pakdi, in Patna, where several people were grievously injured and one person died when the police evicted them to make space for Metro construction on October 5. In the last four years, the Bihar government has tried, at least, 10 times to evict the inhabitants of Malahi Pakdi.

The slumdwellers of Malahi Pakdi, who stay right above the sewer line of the city, are mostly cleaners/sweepers with some of them staying there for almost 50 years. Despite several promises of a permanent settlement made during the regimes of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the fear of eviction continued to haunt them.

The state’s constant attempts to evict the residents of Malahi Pakdi violate Article 19(1)(e) and Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantee the right “to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India” and “protection of life and personal liberty” respectively.

The Supreme Court, in various judgements, has thrown light on the right to shelter and put the onus on the State. In Kharak Singh Vs The State of U.P., the court observed: “By the term ‘life’ as here used, something more is meant than mere animal existence… The fundamental rights of life and personal liberty have many attributes and some of them are found in Article 19. The State must satisfy that both the fundamental rights are not infringed by showing that there is a law within the meaning of Article 21 and that it does amount to a reasonable restriction within the meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution.”

However, Abhishek Ranjan, a former resident of Malahi Pakdi, has seen repeated violations of these rights. “We have seen this before. However, the administration was never so aggressive and brutal like this time.”

On October 5, a police-Rapid Action Force (RAF) contingent with a JCB arrived at Malahi Pakdi to evict the residents without serving a proper notice. The situation turned ugly when they requested the police to wait for two hours to allow them collect their belongings. “I was the first one to talk to the police. I kept requesting them to allow us collect our belongings but they were adamant about demolishing our houses. An argument between a few women and the police resulted in a lathi charge” Shashikant Kumar, a 21-year-old resident who is a driver by profession, said.

In retaliation, the residents hurled stones at the force, which, according to visuals obtained from the locals, thrashed the women residents. Some of the photos show the injury marks sustained by the residents on their backs and heads.

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