Right to a Decent Standard of Living

A large number of residents of basties (informal settlements) of Dhaka City were evicted without notice and their homes were demolished with bulldozers. A case, challenging the ongoing evictions, was brought by two residents and three citizens in the public interest. The Supreme Court held that inhabitants had some rights to shelter and a fair hearing and made recommendations for resettlement. At the outset, the Court recognized that the residents had migrated from rural areas due to poverty and natural calamity and had contributed to the national economy through work in the urban areas, though the Court was of the view that some residents became criminals. Turning to the law, the Constitution provides the State must ensure fundamental rights including life, respect for dignity and equal protection of the law and, further, that the State must direct its policy towards to ensuring the provision of the basic necessities of life including shelter. According to the Court, this latter constitutional directive was not judicially enforceable but the right to life includes the right not to be deprived of a livelihood (The Court approvingly quoted Olga Tellis v BMC from the Supreme Court of India). While the Court appreciated government efforts “eradicate” criminals from the slums, it noted that innocent slum dwellers often became victims of acts of repression by government agencies and other actors. The Court ordered that: (1) The government should develop a master guidelines, or pilot projects, for resettlement; (2) the plan should allow evictions to occur in phases and according to a person's ability to find alternative accommodation; (3) reasonable notice is to be given before eviction; (4) the government should “clear up” slums beside the railway lines andti roads, but resettle these slumdwellers.


The petitioners  in writ petitions Nos. 4610-12/81 live on pavements and in slums in the city of Bombay. Some of the petitioners in    the second batch of writ petitions Nos.5068-79 of  1981, are  residents of    Kamraj    Nagar,    a  basti  or habitation which  is alleged  to have come into existence in about 1960-61,    near the  Western Express  Highway,  Bombay, while others  are residing in structures constructed off the Tulsi Pipe  Road, Mahim, Bombay. The Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights and two journalists have also joined in the writ petitions.

Some  time  in  1981,   the  respondents -  State  of Maharashtra and Bombay Municipal Corporation took a decision that all pavement dwellers and the slum or busti dwellers in the city  of Bombay will be evicted forcibly and deported to their respective  places of  origin  or  removed  to  places outside the  city of  Bombay. Pursuant to that decision, the pavement dwellings  of some  of the petitioners were in fact demolished by  the Bombay Municipal Corporation. Some of the petitioners  challenged   the aforesaid decision of  the respondents in  the High  Court.

Court ruling:

The court ruled that the order of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to evict the petitioners is in accordance with law but there should be an alternate place for them (petitioners) to resettle, "though we [court] do not propose to make it a condition precedent to the removal of the encroachments committed by them."

The court further states:

In order to minimise the hardship involved in any eviction, we direct that the slums, wherever situated, will not be removed until one month after the end of the current monsoon season, that is, until October 31,1985 and, thereafter, only in accordance with this judgment. If any slum is required to be removed before that date, parties may apply to this Court. Pavement dwellers, whether censused or uncensused, will not be removed until the same date viz. October 31, 1985.

Other excerpts:

Two conclusions emerge from this discussion: one, that the right to life which is conferred by Article 21 includes the right to livelihood and two, that it is established that if the petitioners are evicted from their dwellings, they will be deprived of their livelihood. But the Constitution does not put an absolute embargo on the deprivation of life or personal liberty. By Article 21, such deprivation has to be according to procedure established by law.
                                           xxx                                       xxx                                  xxx
Procedure, which is unjust or unfair in the circumstances of a case, attracts the vice of unreasonableness, thereby vitiating the law which prescribes that procedure and consequently, the action taken under it. Any action taken by a public authority which is invested with statutory powers has, therefore, to be tested by the application of two standards: The action must be within the scope of the authority conferred by law and secondly, it must be reasonable. If any action, within the scope of the authority conferred by law, is found to be unreasonable it must mean that the procedure established by law under which that action is taken is itself unreasonable. The substance of the law cannot be divorced from the procedure which it prescribe for, how reasonable the law is, depends upon how fair is the procedure prescribed by it, Sir Raymond Evershad says that, from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, it is the procedure that will most strongly weigh with him. He will tend to form his judgment of the excellence or otherwise of the legal system from his personal knowledge and experience in seeing the legal machine at work", [`The influence of Remedies on Rights' (Current Legal Problems 1953, Volume 6).