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INDIA: New eviction case in the name of road expansion, West Bengal

The State government of West Bengal is to commence a road expansion project funded by the Central Government. The planned project involves the widening of 21 kilometers along Budge-Budge Trunk Road, located in the South 24 Paraganas district. Several thousand families currently live along this road and the expansion will mean the destruction of their homes and lives. District administration is currently sketching a plan to evict the families who have resided beside the road for many decades. However, no proposals for resettlement or compensation for the victims has been included in the eviction plan.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

15 February 2005
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HA-01-2005: INDIA: New eviction case in the name of road expansion, West Bengal

INDIA: Eviction; Right to housing; Right to life
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed by MASUM, a human rights organization in West Bengal, of a disturbing case that will involve the eviction of several thousand families in the South 24 Paraganas district, West Bengal, India.

A 21 kilometre road expansion project has been planned along the Budge-Budge Trunk Road. An estimated 20,000-30,000 families currently reside along this stretch of road and will be rendered homeless by the expansion project. No prior legal notice has been given to these families. Furthermore, because of their oppressed social status, the families have been labeled illegal occupants of their homes, despite having lived in the area for decades. This means that not only will the families be evicted, but that they will not be resettled or receive compensation for the eviction.

This is a great crime of injustice where these families' rights to housing and due process have been violated. This is not the first eviction case to be reported in West Bengal, and the fear is that the precedent has been set for further evictions. According to the International Covenants that India has signed, evictions of this nature are illegal and the government is under international obligation to uphold the right to adequate housing and provide adequate process, compensation and rehabilitation to evictees.

The AHRC urges you to write to the Minister-in-charge of the Department of Public Works of West Bengal Government regarding this eviction and in requesting strong action in this matter.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFOMRAITON:

Name of Victim(s):
Tens of thousands of common people living along the roadside of the proposed project
Alleged perpetrators
: West Bengal Government: P.W.D. Dept, Municipal Affairs Dept, Irrigation Dept, Police and Administration.
Place of the incident: 21 kilometers of land along Budge-Budge Trunk Road, South 24 Paraganas district, West Bengal
Date of the incident: Continuous process

The State government of West Bengal is to commence a road expansion project funded by the Central Government. The planned project involves the widening of 21 kilometers along Budge-Budge Trunk Road, located in the South 24 Paraganas district. Several thousand families currently live along this road and the expansion will mean the destruction of their homes and lives. District administration is currently sketching a plan to evict the families who have resided beside the road for many decades. However, no proposals for resettlement or compensation for the victims has been included in the eviction plan.

In discussions between the district administration and members of West Bengal's legislative assembly (MLA) ruled by the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM), about the road expansions, no consideration of resettlement or compensation to the evicted persons has been given. Thus far one visit to the project site took place on 18 January 2005 by the MLA, Roads and Highways Division and the District Magistrate of South 24 Paraganas, Tapas Chaudhuri. Several reasons have been cited for this situation. Mr. Morselin Molla, a local CPIM leader and MLA, allegedly stated, "there is no question of compensation and/or rehabilitation". He explained that as the residents along the road are illegal occupants, they have no right to compensation and that the expansion will allow the road to be free from this illegal behaviour. It is also alleged that Mr. Kali Bhandari, chairman of the CPIM led Maheshtala Municipality, added, "the amount of money which has been allotted is too meager for this road expansion project, we cannot provide compensation with that little money".

It is important to stress the large, ongoing and unjust nature of this eviction. While the evictions are included into the road expansion plans, there has been no notice or warning given to the families in question.  According to Civil Procedure Code of India, before any eviction operation, the authority must issue legal notice to the occupants of that land. In this case, however, no notice or even no letter has been issued to the residents by the concerned authority. Therefore, the residents are fully unaware of the actual programme of the West Bengal government.

In many instances, involving other cases, a family's first knowledge of the eviction comes as their home is being knocked down by developers. The final damages of the road expansion project will not be known for several months, however it is estimated that at least 30,000 families will be evicted; people who have lived in this area for generations. It is unacceptable that these victims have no claim to their homes, and thus no claim to compensatory damages.

This new eviction case along Budge-Budge Road is just one of the many that have occurred in West Bengal in recent years. It has been our experience that the communist-led government of West Bengal repeatedly ignores the mandatory provisions of the Domestic Law concerning evictions. Our last case (FA-27-2003, UP-54-2003 and HA-06-2004) documented the eviction of 7,000 Untouchables from their homes of over 100 years in Bellilious Park, West Bengal. No notice, resettlement plans or compensation was offered and the results were horrific. Most of the victims relocated to a garbage dump, living in conditions much akin to torture, and suffered grave illnesses. An appeals case was brought by the victims but the eviction was again held up in court.
 
These eviction cases are illegal and are a complete violation of these families' right to adequate housing and right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. By the standards of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), these human rights violations are illegal. India claims to adhere to these two covenants, and thus are under international obligation to ensure that the evictees have a right to housing and/or compensation. Under no circumstances should development come at the cost of rendering tens of thousands of innocent people homeless and poverty-stricken. The local government must be ordered to take appropriate measures in ensuring that these families are treated fairly and that their rights are recognized and upheld.    

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to  the Minister-in-charge of the Department of Public Works of West Bengal government to express your deep concern about this serious case.       

Sample letter:

Dear Sri Amar Chowdhury,

Re: INDIA: New Eviction Case in the Name of Road Expansion, West Bengal

Name of Victim(s): Tens of thousands of common people living along the roadside of the proposed project 
Alleged perpetrators: West Bengal Government: P.W.D. Dept, Municipal Affairs Dept, Irrigation Dept, Police and Administration.
Place of the incident: 21 kilometers of land along Budge-Budge Trunk Road, South 24 Paraganas district, West Bengal
Date of the incident: Continuous process

I am shocked to have learnt of yet another eviction case concerning poor residents of West Bengal. A road expansion project along 21 kilometers of Budge-Budge Trunk Road in the South Paraganas district will cause the eviction of approximately 20,000-30,000 families. No legal notice has been given to any of the residents along this roadside. You may be aware that according to the Civil Procedure Code of India, before any eviction operation, the authority must issue legal notice to the occupants of that land. Furthermore, while the project is ongoing in nature, there should be plans for resettlement or compensation to the victims of the eviction.

There have been several inadequate explanations by government officials as to why this eviction merits no rehabilitation for the evictees.  Mr. Morselin Molla, a local CPIM leader and MLA, allegedly explained that as the residents are illegal occupants of the land, the victims have no authority to receive compensation for the evictions. It is alleged that Mr. Kali Bhandari, chairman of the CPIM led Maheshtala Municipality, also noted that as the budget allocated for the road expansion is small, the local government does not have the funds to support a rehabilitation program.

If this eviction case follows the same pattern as the one in Bellilious Park before it, I am certain that the victims of the Budge-Budge Trunk Road expansion will end up homeless and poverty stricken. It is appalling to think that government action has a hand in developing land at the cost of living standards and human lives. It is also distressing to learn that in cases of eviction, families are often unaware of the plan until construction workers and bulldozers arrive at their homes. India should be acting in accordance with Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and International Covenants of Human Rights which guarantee the right to life of citizens. This road expansion eviction is yet another blatant disregard of these standards.

I urge you to look deep into these eviction cases in West Bengal as it is my fear that they are becoming the norm. Even years after obliterating the structured class system in India, rights to adequate housing have not been upheld throughout the entire community. India is internationally obligated to ensure that its people have access to all basic human needs and the local government of West Bengal must be condemned for their deliberate actions against the residents along Budge-Budge Trunk Road.

Yours truly, 


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SEND A LETTER TO:

Sri Amar Chowdhury
Minister-in-charge of Department of Public Works
Government of West Bengal
Main Block,2nd.Floor, Writers' Buildings
Kolkata-700 001
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 22143161, 2214-5600 Extn.4082/4314
Fax: +91 33 2214788
E-mail: micpwd@wb.gov.in

SEND A COPY TO:
 
1. Shri Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister and Minister in Charge of Home (Police) Department
Government of West Bengal
Writers' Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480
E-mail: cm@wb.gov.in

2. Shri Ashok Bhattacharya
Minister-in-charge of Municipal Affairs and Urban Development 
Government of West Bengal
Writers' Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 22145497
Fax: +91 33 22143853
E-mail: 6241@writerscal.gov.in

3. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Calcutta-700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

4. Shri Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Sansad Marg
New Delhi - 110 001
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 2334 0891 / 2334 7065
Fax: + 91 11 2334 0016 / 2336 6537 / 2334 4113
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

5. Mr. Miloon Kothari
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
Att: Ms. Cecilia Moller
Room 4-066/010
UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211, Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9265
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

6. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission
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