Housing for All? India’s Forced Evictions Crisis Contradicts National Housing Policy

By Shivani Chaudhry (Executive Director, Housing and Land Rights Network: www.hlrn.org.in)

6. Pul Mithai.jpg

Despite the Indian government’s pledge to provide ‘Housing for All by 2022’ and its national scheme to operationalize this goal, public authorities across the country continue to commit gross violations of multiple human rights through forced evictions, primarily under the guise of ‘city beautification’ and clearance of low-income settlements. The stark contradiction of implementing housing policies through housing demolitions, draws attention to the major housing and human rights challenges currently faced by urban and rural communities throughout India.

Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) India’s most recent study, ‘Forced Evictions in India in 2017: An Alarming National Crisis’ reveals a growing trend of eviction and demolition of homes of the rural and urban poor. This silent crisis, however, continues to be unreported and ignored. As the Government of India does not collect data on evictions, HLRN has been monitoring forced evictions to raise awareness of the issue and promote an adequate state response. Our findings show that in 2017, government authorities demolished over 53,700 homes, forcefully evicting at least 260,000 people[1] across the country. This means that the state destroyed at least 147 homes every day or six homes every hour, evicting about 30 persons every hour in 2017. This is not just startling but also ironic given the government’s target of ensuring ‘housing for all’ by the year 2022. At least 600,000 more people are living with the threat of eviction. As this data only reflects cases known to HLRN, the actual number of people evicted and faced with the threat of eviction is likely to be much higher.

After analyzing 213 reported cases of forced eviction in 2017, HLRN has identified four broad categories for which individuals and communities were forcibly removed and displaced from their homes and habitats:

  1. 'City beautification’ projects and ‘slum-clearance’[2] drives [46 per cent of recorded evictions];
  2. Infrastructure and ostensible ‘development’ projects [25 per cent of evictions];
  3. Environmental conservation and wildlife and forest protection [14 per cent of evictions]; and,
  4. Disaster management efforts [eight per cent of evictions].

The highest percentage of evictions (affecting over 122,000 people) were carried out for ‘city beautification,’ ‘slum-clearance’ drives, and ‘slum-free city’ schemes. The notion that ‘beautification’ implies removing the poor from cities reflects an alarming prejudice and discrimination against the country’s most marginalized populations. In many cities, homes of the urban poor are considered ‘illegal encroachments’ and demolished without any consideration that people have been living there for decades, sometimes 40–50 years, and possess documents that validate their legality and proof of residence.

While several evictions are justified for the ‘public purpose,’ the term is ill-defined, even in law, and is widely misused. In 2017, ironically, at least 6,900 homes were demolished to implement ‘housing for all’ schemes. Though the Supreme Court of India and state High Courts have upheld the right to housing as an inalienable component of the right to life, in 2017, court orders were responsible for 17 per cent of the documented evictions.

In almost all eviction cases, authorities did not adhere to due process. Affected communities, in many instances, were not even provided notice or time to remove belongings from their homes. Central government authorities carried out evictions in Delhi during the winter, rendering families homeless and vulnerable to the bitter cold. In Chennai, authorities evicted families before and during school examinations, and also during the rainy season. In numerous cases, the displaced are not resettled on the false grounds that they are not ‘legal’ residents. The persistent discrimination against the country’s poor is further perpetuated in state policy. Several state governments use the exclusionary tool of ‘eligibility criteria’ to determine rehabilitation. Even when families have lived for many years at a site, if they fail to meet the state’s documentation requirements, they are denied relief and resettlement, despite losing their homes, which are generally built incrementally and with hard-earned savings.

The processes followed before, during, and after evictions have resulted in the violation of multiple human rights as well as of national and international laws, policies, and human rights standards. According to the Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, housing priority should be given to women and the most vulnerable, especially older persons, children, and persons with disabilities. Despite this directive, these groups are the worst affected by the government’s actions.

Given the severity of the crisis, HLRN has proposed 12 recommendations to the government, which can be found in our report. These include the need for a national moratorium on evictions; the adoption of a human rights approach to housing; a focus on in situ (on site) upgrading of housing and settlements; priority to evicted, displaced, and homeless/landless families under the ‘Housing for All–2022’ scheme; and, the implementation of recommendations made to India by UN treaty bodies, Special Procedures, and the Universal Periodic Review.

It is only through the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the human rights of the urban and rural poor to their lands and homes, that India’s housing problems will be resolved.

For more information, write to: ed@hlrn.org.in

[1] The total number of persons affected has been calculated by multiplying the number of homes demolished by the Census of India average household size of 4.8. However, many demolished houses had more than one family and most of the affected families have more than five persons. The number of people affected is thus more likely to be in the range of 260,000–300,000.

[2]  While HLRN does not support the use of the word ‘slum,’ it is used by the Government of India to refer to settlements/homes of low-income groups.

In struggle for Sovereignty, Democracy and Rights of the People Affected by Dams

Water is a right, not a commodity!
Statement by the National Coordination of the Movement of People Affected by Dams

  Foto: Lidyane Ponciano

Foto: Lidyane Ponciano

In honor of the International Day against Dams and for Rivers, Waters and Life MIT DRAN is honored to re-publish this statement by Brazil’s Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) or Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB). Large infrastructure projects like hydropower dams continue to be a leading driver of dispossession and displacement for communities across the globe, disproportionately impacting rural and indigenous communities in the Global South. MAB is one of the world’s largest social movements struggling for the rights of people affected by dams and an international reference for people driven energy sovereignty. 

March is a special month for people affected by dams. Since the first National Meeting (of MAB) in 1991, March 14th became the mark of this agenda in Brazil. In 1997 the date broke borders when, during the first International Meeting of MAB, the International Day against Dams and for Rivers, Waters and Life was established.

Since this point, March 14th serves to unify mobilizations around the world in defense of the rights of millions of people affected by projects involving hydroelectric dams, mining waste or accumulation and channeling of water.

Since 2016, this unity has gained strength in Latin America with the launch of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAR), which acts as a regional platform for a diverse set of national organizations that daily are building a vision of popular energy sovereignty on the continent.

Now, in 2018, an event of great importance for the militants of the fight against dams will be the epicenter of struggles in the month of March. In parallel to the World Water Forum, the World Alternative Water Forum (FAMA) will be held in Brasilia from March 17th to the 22nd.

A few kilometers from the Brazilian federal capital will separate completely opposite projects. The "forum of the transnationals"- the World Water Forum- will bring together hundreds of representatives of governments and transnational corporations that support the privatization of water to generate profits and accumulation of capital wealth. These are large corporations such as Nestlé and Coca-Cola, which intend to appropriate this natural asset to fatten the sums of profits sent annually to their shareholders.

At the other (ideological) end- at FAMA- will be present thousands of workers from grassroots movements, environmentalists and NGOs that struggle to make water a public good, so that water is controlled and used at the service of the communities. FAMA rejects any form of privatization: from rivers, springs, underground reserves and sanitation.

It is no coincidence that the "forum of the transnationals" is held in Brazil. Of all the freshwater available in the world, 12% is in Brazilian territory, which represents the largest reserve in the world - including Alter do Chão and Guarani aquifers. What is at stake is a huge strategic reservoir of water that could be commodified to serve the interests of a handful of business owners.

In addition to the water reservoirs, the control of their distribution is also at stake. In Brazil, despite the wave of privatization in the 1990s and the coup of 2016, more than 90% of  sanitation services are public. In almost all cases where privatization did take hold, service worsened and costs increased. The most symptomatic example is that of ‘Itu’ in Sao Paulo where during an eight-year period of private management (2007-2015),  the worst rationing of services ever recorded in the city's history was experienced and, later, led to the re-municipalizing of the service.

We have already experienced the results of the privatization of hydroelectric plants and the loss of energy sovereignty: worsening violations of the rights of affected populations, rising tariffs/costs and worsening services. Therefore, we must fight against this institutionalized and legalized assault process called privatization.

With the coup established in Brazil in 2016, the commodification of all aspects of life has been placed as a priority of the State. With water, it will be no different. But, with 27 years of existence to be celebrated this March 14, the Movement of Dam Affected (MAB) understand that no trend in history is irreversible. We need to defend democracy and defeat the coup completely.

In our last National Meeting we decided to fight with all our strength for a popular energy project that guarantees sovereignty, distribution of wealth and popular control over energy resources.

In addition to today’s day of honoring the struggle, on March 8th women from around the world united for International Women's Day. With the question of water, we know that it is women who suffer most from the consequences of scarcity or difficult access to this natural good. Therefore, women affected will be the protagonists and leaders of all the struggles of this month.

In view of this, MAB has called on the population affected by dams in Brazil to join ranks in the mobilizations that will take place in March, with a special focus on FAMA, in Brasília. It is our commitment to defend the waters, rivers and life against any form of privatization. Therefore, we affirm that "water is a right, not a commodity".



Popular Movements Against Displacement in Mexico City

By Max Budovitch

This blog post is a result of a DRAN-sponsored summer internship with Habitat International Coalition (HIC) in Mexico City, Mexico.

Displacement is not new to residents in Mexico city. The 1985 earthquake displaced thousands of the capital’s most vulnerable residents. One of the most important outcomes of reconstruction following the earthquake was the formation of multiple housing rights movements that helped lay the groundwork for some of Mexico’s strongest anti-displacement and housing rights advocates.

 A typical semi-formal settlement on the urban periphery

A typical semi-formal settlement on the urban periphery

The most recent wave of development-induced displacement in the capital dates to the liberalization of Mexico’s economy in the 1990s. This climate created a boom in the higher segments of the urban real estate market that has made it increasingly difficult for lower income households to live in the central areas of the capital. This general trend is punctuated and exemplified by specific initiatives such as the ‘revitalization’ of Mexico City’s Historic Center, the construction of high-rise office towers along the Paseo de la Reforma, and the commercial development of Santa Fe. Just as developer friendly public policy is contributing to this dynamic, so is the lack of regulation. As in most global urban cores, rampant real estate speculation is unfettered in Meico City. Public policy such as the initiative to formalize street vendors in the Historic Center and develop the area into an international tourist destination, as well as a public initiative to densify centrally located neighborhoods through developer incentives, have led to a consolidation of property interests in the hands of a number of wealthy developers and investors who target middle and high market segments while capturing public rents. This dynamic is one of the reasons why many middle and lower income tenants are evicted from their well-located dwellings and have no choice but to move to cheaper zones in the State of Mexico or the South Eastern outskirts of Mexico City where there is often a lack of basic services and where one might spend up to six hours commuting to and from work every day.

 Windows are bricked over as tenants are evicted

Windows are bricked over as tenants are evicted

During July and August 2017, I participated in a DRAN supported and organized internship at Habitat International Coalition’s Latin America offices based in Mexico City on the issue of displacement in the capital. Among several housing rights groups active in Mexico City including the Movimiento Urbano Popular (MUP) and the Unión Popular Revolucionaria Emiliano Zapata (UPREZ), I coordinated with a loosely organized coalition of residents in the city’s centrally located Colonia Juárez neighborhood, which has come under development pressures that has forced many residents to find more affordable housing elsewhere (pressures that the local community understands to be part and parcel of a wave of gentrification). I gathered testimony and experiences of eviction and displacement from residents during community meetings and created a work plan with the residents to write an anti-displacement manual. When completed, the manual will be a condensed source of useful popular and legal terminology, symptoms of displacement pressures, and a matrix of possible responses and counter-measures that residents can use to mobilize in defense of their communities. The reality of home invasions and occupations by strongmen, new property owners changing the locks while tenants are at work, and the legal and practical challenges of holding owners and developers accountable in court inspired the community to envision a manual that would offer advice to residents on how to unite and combat threats of eviction before it becomes too late.

 A community meeting

A community meeting

I also worked with the community in Colonia Juárez to draft a locally-tailored version of the Housing and Land Rights Network’s Displacement Impact Assessment Survey. The Survey, previously known as the Eviction Impact Assessment tool (EvIA), is a methodology based in the UN Basic Principles + Guidelines on Development Based Evictions and Displacement, which was initially developed by the Housing and Land Rights Network and is currently being adapted and applied by DRAN to different displacement scenarios. Adjusting the Survey for an urban context of development-induced displacement presented challenges such as how to measure the impacts of both the threat of eviction and eviction itself on heterogenous urban households that, while residing in the same neighborhood or even within the same building, might face very different types of eviction threats and possible outcomes.

The manual is envisioned as a living document which can adapt to the constantly changing threats faced by housing rights and advocacy groups in Mexico City. One potential adaptation is to include feedback from Displacement Impact Assessment surveying as different communities use this methodology to measure the impacts of displacement. Moreover, the response to the September 19 earthquake this year has ushered in a wave of building demolitions and relocations under the pretense of seismic risk. Some of these demolitions are reportedly conducted without proper investigation and without informing residents.[1] A rights-based approach to housing for those displaced by the earthquake as well as stronger protections against development-related evictions can help ensure greater access to housing for those affected.  The evolving crisis, and human rights violations as a result of multiple causes of displacement is a critical issue that the manual might be able to engage.

[1] Author’s telephone interview with freelance journalist living in Colonia Roma, D.F. October 1, 2017.; National Public Radio. “Quick Building Demolitions Rasie Questions in Mexico”. September 28, 2017. <http://www.npr.org/2017/09/28/554331332/quick-building-demolitions-raise-questions-in-mexico>

Two steps forward, one step back: Internal displacement and the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development' 

A Briefing Paper by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

Authored by Nadine Walicki

This July, progress against the targets of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was reviewed at a High Level Political Forum in New York. The six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in focus this year were on reducing poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), improving health (SDG 3), gender equality (SDG 5), building resilient industry and infrastructure (SDG 9), and protecting the marine environment (SDG 14).

All of the goals are relevant to internal displacement as progress can help prevent displacement and reduce its negative impacts. However, investments into these six areas can also generate new vulnerabilities and risks as well as violate peoples’ rights. This can undermine the overall achievement of the 2030 agenda, which explicitly states the 17 sustainable development goals in the agenda seek to realize the human rights of all.

One risk is forced displacement of people from their homes and livelihoods. This often leads to impoverishment and marginalisation, but these adverse impacts of development are rarely accounted for in reviewing progress against development targets. The result is a positively skewed assessment of development progress that is not in line with the reality on the ground.

This briefing paper explores the relationship between the six goals reviewed this year and internal displacement across the globe. SDG 9, and the associated investments in infrastructure and industrial development, is of particular interest: while building resilient infrastructure is critical to broader economic and social development, it also regularly displaces people from their homes and livelihoods, and can result in new poverty and marginalisation.

The trade-offs inherent in development investment must therefore be made visible and accounted for in review exercises. The connections between the different SDGs must be considered, to make sure progress in area does not set back advances in others. In this briefing paper, IDMC highlights these connections and the need to identify, measure and expose both progress and setbacks within the 2030 Agenda.

Source: http://www.internal-displacement.org/libra...

New Directions in Displacement Research

On behalf of the MIT Displacement Research Action Network we are honored to share with you our feature virtual symposium “New Directions in Displacement Research” an examination of recent scholarship on displacement and evictions from the Global North and South.  

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DRAN Conference on Hydroproject Displacement Mentioned in Resettlement News Publication

It is an honor for DRAN's spring 2016 conference, "The State of Hydropower Projects Today" to be featured in the January/July 2016 edition of Resettlement News, a specialized publication that has appeared in India bi-annually for nearly 16 years. 

An excerpt: 

"The building of many large-scale hydropower projects has not registered over the
last decades a record of comprehensive successes, and thus has triggered strong
challenges and public criticism. Among various social and environmental disfunctionalities,
such constructions have also been accompanied by preventable social
disasters and impoverishment consequences resulting from several typical causes: the
misplanning and underfinancing of the projects’ forced displacement and resettlement
components; massive cost overruns; extensive construction delays; and cumulative
short- and long term negative environmental impacts.. The workshop was convened to
enable a group of known scholars in the development field to take stock of important
lessons, discuss them, and identify ways in which past errors might be avoided in the

Read the full text here

Update: Boston Chinatown Eviction Mapping

DRAN is continuing its work documenting displacement in Boston's Chinatown district.

Check out the live tool at: http://chinatowndisplacementproject.nil249.webfactional.com/

Chinatown Displacement Project is a data collecting and mapping platform documenting the gentrification and displacement in Chinatown, Boston. The platform is developed by MIT's Displacement Research and Action Network in collaboration with the Chinese Progressive Association.

Boston’s Chinatown is the third-largest Chinatown in the nation and serves as the social, cultural, political, and economic center of the broader Chinese community of New England. Today, the neighborhood is one of the most rapidly gentrifying part of the city, where new luxury residential developments drive up property values. As a result, hundreds of families were displaced and many are at risk of being evicted. Through creating exploratory and interactive visual representation of displacement and market-led gentrification, we aim to support advocacy work of organizations preventing and responding to evictions and displacement.

Learn more by visiting the full project website here.


OCTOBER 7, 2016


The DRAN Team is excited to announce the start a new project funded by the Samuel Tak Lee Research Fund. The project will compare compensation frameworks for displaced individuals and communities across five different countries—USA, India, South Africa, Colombia and Brazil—along with international standards from the World Bank and various UN bodies. Each national compensation framework will be analyzed in practice through 5 detailed case studies using qualitative and quantitative methods. Key issues to be addressed in the project will include: the different ways in which landed property is assigned value; the rights afforded to communities in negotiating for compensation; and some possible alternative compensation frameworks that could be pursued by governments or international agencies. DRAN is extremely appreciative of the STL Fund for making this exciting new project possible. You can read the abstract for the proposal on the STL website by clicking here



This proposal relates to ‘land and property rights’ and ‘sustainable urbanization’ in the RFP. Each year, millions of urban, peri-urban and rural residents lose access to land through ‘takings’. Governments have always asserted their power to expropriate or ‘take’ land owned or occupied by their citizens, provided that they don’t render them worse off. Typically, this is sought to be done through a “fair” process of land acquisition, as well as a “fair” compensation for the losses resulting from the ‘taking’. Other actors such as land lords or developers are also often enabled through laws and policies to displace residents, which constitute a form of land and housing dispossession although not ‘taking’ in strict legal sense. At the heart of these land dispossessions is the question of what constitutes fair compensation or assistance. Most land takings lead to disputes, with a serious impact on public order, and resistance from those whose lands and houses are taken. In this project, we propose to analyze the legal and policy frameworks that govern property in land in a select number of countries, from both global North and South, and specifically examine the compensation and assistance frameworks that are used. The main purpose of this project is to understand the legal and policy frameworks used by different actors – private developers, governments, and land users, owners/occupiers – to estimate what constitutes fair compensation and assistance in a context of hyper urbanization and commodification of land. To do this, we will analyze 5 selected countries (US, India, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa), which have been dentified by our research group, the Displacement Research and Action Network (DRAN). The purpose is to examine how far the laws, policies and practices of these countries measure up against global standards and tools that are available, such as the Eviction Impact Assessment Tool1, and the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Induced Displacement, for estimating losses from land takings and displacement. A comparison of the different countries may yield useful lessons for other countries such as China, by showing how different models of land governance may lead to different outcomes.