Homeless do not live, merely exist; life envisaged by Constitution unknown to them: HC

NEW DELHI: Homeless does not live but merely exist and life as envisaged by Article 21 of the Constitution is unknown to them, observed the Delhi High Court which directed the relocation of five persons who were shifted from one slum site to another at the time of the expansion of the New Delhi Railway Station.

Justice C Hari Shankar, while dealing with a petition filed by five slum dwellers in 2008 against their eviction even from the second site on account of further modernisation for the railway station, observed that the slum dwellers are hounded by poverty and penury and do not stay there out of choice.

The court said their place of residence is a last-ditch effort to secure for themselves the right to life under Article 21 concerning the right to shelter and a roof over their heads.

The judge said that law is worth tinsel if the underprivileged cannot get justice and the judiciary is required to remain sensitive to the call of Articles 38 and 39 which obligate the State to secure social, economic, and political justice for all and to strive to minimise inequalities from the society.

The homeless, who people the pavements, the footpaths, and those inaccessible nooks and crannies of the city from where the teeming multitude prefer to avert their eyes, live on the fringes of existence. Indeed, they do not live, but merely exist; for life, with its myriad complexions and contours, envisaged by Article 21 of our Constitution, is unknown to them, said the court in its order dated July 4.

Even a bare attempt at imagining how they live is, for us, peering out from our gilt-edged cocoons, cathartic. And so we prefer not to do so; as a result, these denizens of the dark continue to eke out their existence, not day by day, but often hour by hour, if not minute by minute, the court stated.

The court said that if the petitioners can demonstrate to the authorities that before moving to the second slum colony on the Lahori Gate side in 2003, they lived in the original slum colony i.e. Shahid Basti jhuggi in Nabi Karim from a date prior to November 30, 1998, they would be entitled to an alternative accommodation under the Relocation Policy of the Ministry of Urban Development.

The petitioners would be allotted alternative accommodation in accordance with the Relocation Policy as expeditiously as possible and not later than six months from the date of production of the requisite documents before the Railways, the court stated.

In its 32-page order, the court asserted that the judiciary is required to remain sensitive to the call of the Constitution which obligates the State to secure the goal of justice and strive to minimise inequalities in income, status, facilities, opportunities and rejected the respondent’s stand that under the Relocation Policy, relocation is provided for only those slums which were in existence prior to November 30, 1998.

Jhuggi dwellers represent a shifting, nomadic, populace… Hounded by poverty and penury, they have no option but to comply (when shifted elsewhere). Slum-dwellers do not stay in slums out of choice. Their choice of residence is the last ditch effort at securing, for themselves, what the Constitution regards as an inalienable adjunct to the right to life under Article 21, viz. the right to shelter and a roof over their heads. As to whether the roof provides any shelter at all is, of course, another matter altogether, the court observed.

The court said that beneficial statutes and schemes have to be broadly and liberally interpreted to maximise their scope and effect and that Law is but the instrument, the via media, as it were, to attain the ultimate goal of justice, and law which cannot aspire to justice is, therefore, not worth administering.

“Law, with all its legalese, is worth tinsel if the underprivileged cannot get justice. At the end of the day, our preambular goal is not law, but justice,” it added. (PTI)

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