The public interest team at Increasing Diversity By Increasing Access (IDIA) comprising of NUJS students has successfully obtained a stay on slum demolitions in Kolkata’s Subhas Sarovar area.
As part of its beautification project, the West Bengal state government planned to demolish the hutments in the area, which would render around twenty-two families living there for more than a decade, homeless. Three of the slum dwellers, including octogenarian Shiv Shankar Ray, sought to file a petition before the Calcutta High Court challenging the government’s decision.
The petition was drafted by the IDIA team comprising of NUJS students– which received help from pro bono lawyers practising at the High Court – and filed on Tuesday. Led by Founding Trustee Prof Shamnad Basheer, IDIA directors Arnab Roy, Kalpana Yadav and Svetlana Correya, along with fellow Abhay Jain, and researchers from NUJS Kolkata (including IDIA scholars Bankim Mandal and Rinju Kumari) were instrumental in securing temporary justice for the slum dwellers. Advocate Anirudh Chatterjee, assisted by Kushal Chatterjee, argued the matter pro bono.
It was contended that the state authorities were forcing the petitioners and other slum dwellers to evict the area sans any notice or rehabilitation scheme in place. The petitioners also pointed out that the authorities had already begun construction around the area, “causing grave distress to the slum-dwellers and deterioration of their already abysmal living conditions”.
The petition also highlights the fact that various representations made to the authorities were to no avail. The slum dwellers were, in fact, threatened to vacate, stating that bulldozers will otherwise run their slums to the ground overnight. When IDIA volunteers from NUJS Kolkata approached the police, they refused to register a complaint. As opposed to getting relief, the slum dwellers received constant eviction threats, the latest of which was issued on August 1. Hence, the petition states that the arbitrary actions of the government amounted to a violation of Articles 14, 19, 21 and 300A of the Constitution.
In terms of relief, the petitioners sought the Court’s assistance in directing the government to put a hold on the demolition of the slum housing. The petition also prays for alternative accommodation for the slum dwellers, and a rehabilitation plan. An interim stay on the forced evictions was also prayed for. When the matter came up for hearing today, Justice Ranjit Kumar Bag granted a stay on the demolition for one week.
The order comes in the wake of IDIA’s promising new public interest litigation initiative called P-PIL (Promoting Public Interest Lawyering). The key idea behind this initiative is to enable IDIA scholars to advocate for their communities and other public interest causes, whilst still in Law School. To this end, the scholars will work alongside IDIA student volunteers, directors, pro-bono lawyers, law faculty and various others, in order to synergistically achieve shared public interest outcomes.
You can read the petition below:
This article was originally published by Bar and Bench.