Climate Change, Corporate Accountability, Indigenous Struggles for Land, Mining Scams and Urban Displacement

Slum Settlements on Railway Land: A State of Denial and Deprivation

, by Intercultural Resources

In India, the slum dwellers living on lands owned by the Central Government are considered as illegal residents. The slum dwellers who live on the Indian Railway lands spend their lives in the most insanitary conditions. Taunted by the railway authorities and despied by the government’s agencies, these poor residents who are branded as encroachers, often struggle hard to eke out a living and are at times forced to resort to ‘unlawful’ means to earn a living. In case of displacement, there is no provision of adequate compensation or alternate accommodation available for them. This article, delves into the impact of railwayland slum dwellers on a city’s developmental approach and attempts to explore the rehabilitation process of the displaced slumdwellers across the various states of Delhi, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Bihar. The article also attempts to describe the efforts of various civil society organizations who have been assisting the slum dwellers to understand their rights and lead an improved life.

By Chandana Das

There is a new vision of the world becoming a global village with technologically and industrially developed cities. One of the consequences of such a “glittering” vision, in this neo-liberal time, is urbanization. Ever since the beginning of modernization and industrialization, cities have pulled cheap labor forces from the rural hinterland. These laborers, unfamiliar with the vibrant cities, are then forced to find inexpensive accommodation in slums [1] Studies have shown that rapid urbanization has significantly increased the rural to urban population inflow, triggering the expansion of slums in developing countries.

Slums in India

In India, slums have been called various names; like Jhuggi, Gandi Basti/Maleen Basti (dirty slums) etc. Yet, they play a vital role in the development and the day-to-day functions of a city. The total slum population in India is around 65 million1 and the number of households in these slums is almost 14 million (as per the Census of India, 2011). According to the Human Development Report on the Bombay Municipal Corporation, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), slums occupy about 6 per cent of the total Mumbai land. Whereas, for other metropolitan cities like Delhi (18.9 per cent), Kolkata (11.72 per cent) and Chennai (25.6 per cent); the ratio is much higher. In relation to this, the urban housing shortage, as estimated in 2012 by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, is 18.78 million.

Slums in the urban space are the identity creator for the people living there. The slum dwellers continue to live their lives in the most inhumane and deplorable conditions, as the slums are marked by over crowdedness and without basic amenities. In India, it is very common to come across families continuing to reside at the same address in a city – the slums – for several generations.

Urban Development

With the introduction of market liberalization and privatization policies in the last 20 years, the Government of India has become highly intolerant towards slums. To pacify the aspirations of the new consumer-middle class, the government is fast transforming the urban landscape. In order to acquire prime urban land, slums are being removed under the banner of many state-initiated programmes like “city beautification” and “housing for urban poor,” etc. This prime land is later used for the construction of malls, entertainment centers, and commercial and residential spaces – all in the name of “public interest.” In India, there have been hundreds of cases where the slums have been brutally demolished, violating every human right.

Slums on Railway Land

It is estimated that Indian Railways is the biggest land owner in India. Across the country, a large number of slums are also situated on land owned by the Indian Railways, and the slum dwellers on these lands are termed as “encroachers”. No government housing policy is applicable to them and they face evictions without any prior notice or any provisions for alternate accommodation.

Thousands of urban poor have been displaced from the Central Railway slums. Many have lost their lives, and yet, few have fought against the system. Recently, the issues of land rights for the urban poor gained a considerable amount of attention, but sadly, with less justice for them. Since these slums are settled on private or public land, they are always at the mercy of bulldozers.

Railway Rehabilitation Policy

The Indian Railways treats housing as a state subject. This means that the responsibility of rehabilitating the evicted slum dwellers lies with the particular state government, under whose jurisdiction the slum is located. Besides, Indian Railways does not have an existing Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) policy. However, according to the Government of Delhi’s R&R policy, the cost of relocation of slums that existed on Railway land in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT-D), prior to 1998, is to be borne by the Indian Railways. This approach has received approval from the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).

A similar agreement was carried out with the Government of Maharashtra under the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP), in which the Railways agreed to set aside some amount for the resettlement of families evicted due to the project. Though, the affected people not being provided with proper resettlement benefits and the undesirable impact on the evicted, is another story.

In 1999, the Officer on Special Duty of the Railway Board circulated a letter to the Zonal Railways, which stated the need to address the issue of encroachments on Railway lands, owing to increasing urbanization and scarcity of land. The Board intended to do this by optimally utilizing the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, as well as The Railways Act, 1989. Section 147 of this Act stipulates that the Railway holds the authority to imprison trespassers and unauthorized occupiers for a period of up to six months, and/ or a fine of Rs. 1,000. Railway employees also have the authority to utilize the Railway Police Protection Force to produce trespassers before the Magistrate of the Railway Court. ‘Soft’ encroachments such as JJ clusters and vendors gain priority when evictions are to be carried out.

Railway Land Development Authority (RLDA)

In the last few years, the Ministry of Railways has started viewing the land under its possession as an asset that can be commercially exploited. Land is increasingly being seen as a means for raising funds to meet the rising expenditures of the Ministry. Accordingly, in 2006 a dedicated authority – RLDA was set up to prevent encroachments and generate revenue from the unutilized Railway land, thereby preventing exploitation of these lands.

Encroachments on Railway Land
As of 2006, according to Railway Board records, 0.5 per cent of the Central Railway land was encroached upon. A RTI application was filed to find out the exact amount of Railway land under encroachment and the actions the government had undertaken to stop such encroachments. The response to the RTI stated that the Indian Railways has a total land area of 432,000 hectares that is spread all over India. Out of this, 1,905 hectares of land have been encroached upon as of 31 March, 2007. This shows that only 0.44 per cent of Railway land is actually encroached upon. The Railway claims that it does not maintain state-wise data.

Another RTI was filed in Visakhapatnam to obtain the amount of Railway land encroached by slums. The total land encroached was stated to be 22.77 acres. Out of these, 15.53 acres was identified as surplus land, while the rest was marked as non-surplus. As per the Railway Board guideline, the encroached Railway land, if not required by Railways can be leased out to the State Government for 35 years by paying 99 per cent of the market value. Though in Visakhapatnam, the GVMC authorities expressed their inability to buy the land because of insufficient funding. Thus, the slums on the Railway land are still under the threat of eviction by the Central Railways.

Living Conditions in Slums: A Violation of Human Rights

The inaccessibility of basic services in slums is directly linked to the type of land on which the slums are settled. While there are several government schemes to provide basic services to slums, they are restricted by the categorization of notified and non-notified slums. Notified slums are those slums in India which are officially recognized as slums by Census data, while non-notified slums are those which are not recognized in the official records.

The slums located on Railway land are usually classified as non-notified slums. In several cases, people have been living in these slums for years, denied of basic services. There is no official data that reveals their exact living conditions. Some slums in Delhi have been in existence for the last 30 years, and still, both men and women have to use the railway tracks for sanitation purposes. As the slum dwellers have been tagged as “illegal residents,” even electricity and water supplies are denied to them. In the absence of drinking water facilities, the slum dwellers are forced to tap water from pipes near the tracks for their household chores.

Another major problem the slum dwellers often face is the tag of criminality that is branded on them. As such, they become the victims of harassment both by the police and the mainstream society. Although it is common to find few members indulging in illegal activities, most of the slum dwellers are engaged in productive work. However, if any incidents of pick-pocketing or stealing are reported, the police usually pick up the slum dwellers without any proof.

Slums on Railway Land: Their Displacement & Rehabilitation

The actions of the Indian Railways vis-a-vis slums are governed by two legislations:

 Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971
 The Railways Act, 1989.

There have been cases where slums settled on Central Railway lands have been demolished time and again, without adhering to any specific R&R policy. Some cases from several Indian states listed below depict the issues faced by the residents of settlements on Railway land.

In the city of Surat, around 14 settlements with a population of 15,000 living along the railway tracks, have faced evictions numerous times during the last 40 years. While no notices are provided to the communities prior to eviction, all the settlements have been surveyed for Rajiv Awas Yojana. As years passed by, the slum population also increased. In 2010 it was reported that there were almost 12,000 dwelling units (up to 60,000 people) along the railway tracks in Surat. During eviction drives, the authorities often indulge in violence, but when it comes to the issue of rehabilitation no authority accepts the responsibility nor do they show any willingness to provide relief.

Chhai Gadda slum in Dhanbad, located along railway tracks, has around 300 households. Most of the people living here belong to the Scheduled Castes and other minority groups. Since 1998, there have been approximately ten forced evictions from this slum, and in most cases, only about 10 percent of the slum dwellers received the eviction notices. In 2008, the community of 100 dwelling units was forcibly evicted using extremely violent measures. In protest, the slum dwellers took out a seven-day dharna and approached the Divisional Railway Manager’s (DRM) office regarding the blatant violation of human rights. Instead of assisting the victims, the evicted were informed that they would not receive any help from the state government, as the land belonged to the Central government. Besides, they were directed to approach the Deputy Commissioner to discuss the issue of rehabilitation.

The scenario is similar in the city of Ranchi with a large number of demolitions occurring along the railway settlements. An eviction took place in 2011, but the Railways did not utilize the emptied area for any purpose, and the land still lies vacant. The evicted families are now living in a JJ cluster on a nearby road, minus any basic amenities. A small well has been constructed by the families to access drinking water.

Kadru Pul Toli is another Railway land settlement that received an eviction notice. 135 households of the community approached the High Court against this notice. The case is yet to begin proceedings. The settlement is devoid of any basic physical infrastructure and social amenities. In Jamshedpur, four settlements were evicted owing to the expansion of the Jamshedpur - Ranchi railway tracks. The eviction notice in one of the slums was delivered months after the issue of the notice and just a day before the actual eviction.

Pul Mithai is located in the old Delhi area. It has the biggest wholesale grain market, and the main occupation of the residents is to sell segregated grain chaff in the market set up in the region on Sundays. The Railways’ department demolished their settlement once in the 90s, when they stayed over a bridge; and subsequently in 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2010. In the last demolition, the authorities were supposed to only demolish vacant quarters. However, they eventually ended up demolishing up to 500 homes. The people vehemently resisted the move, but they were faced with police violence and lathi charges (batons). Many dwellers were injured, especially women. Sahar Adhikar Manch, a Delhi based forum filed a petition in the Delhi High Court to stop the demolition.

In Delhi, the demolitions follow a pattern. Usually, no prior notice is given to the people. Armed with bulldozers and a large contingent of police forces, the demolition squad suddenly arrives on a fine morning and begins demolishing the slums.

Cases of Proper Rehabilitation

While the above are some of the cases where the slums on Railway land have been brutally demolished, there are cases where the same kind of slums have been given proper relocation and resettlement options.

In 2006, in Patna, a new platform was to be constructed at Pataliputra station near an over bridge constructed between Patna and Digha. A slum, consisting of approximately 950 families living along that extent, received an eviction notice. The Jhuggi Jhopdi Sangarsh Morcha (a state based forum) filed a case against the eviction and received an order in 2008. The order stated that none of the families that were supposed to be evicted would be removed, unless and until they received proper rehabilitation. The case was filed on the basis of the fact that 250-odd families had received Patta Right (land on lease) from the state government and the same land had been transferred to the Railways. The slum still exists at the same location and negotiations are on with the District Magistrate on a weekly basis.

The Maharashtra State has been successfully implementing the Slum Redevelopment and Resettlement Act, 1971. The Act states that any slum household that has been in existence before the year 2000, and is project-affected, will be rehabilitated without fail. The only eligibility criterion for the same is to be listed in the voters’ list.

In Mumbai, a settlement was located fairly close to the Dahisar railway track, as a result of which, a new railway track could not be set up. Eventually, approximately 350 slum dwellers were rehabilitated close to the original location by the Railway authorities. The same was done for 20-25 households settled near the Andheri railway track. This action has been a joint collaboration of the Central Railways and the Mumbai Rail Corporation. These households are given a house of 225 sq feet, which was revised to 270 sq feet in the year 2005.

There are cases where some residents have sold out their houses and have gone back to living in slums. The obvious reason, which one can assume, is poverty and the maintenance fee that these ex-slum dwellers have to bear while living in the high rise buildings. Thus, the question arises – is resettlement enough?

Civil Society Engagement

Civil Society organizations like Youth for Unity & Voluntary Action (YUVA), NIDAAN, Adarsh Sewa Sansthan, Chhattisgarh Action & Research Team, and Deen Bandhu Samaj Sahyog, have been working among the slum dwellers, trying to raise the issue of slums settled on Railway land. The Government’s housing schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) have no clarity on whether to include the railway slums or not. The National Policy of RAY clearly mentions that the slums located on Central Government land can also be considered under the scheme. However, there have been instances when these slums have been surveyed under these schemes, but rejected during its implementation.

Raipur (Chhattisgarh): In April, 2014 around 13 slums settled on Railway land received an eviction notice. Out of these 13 slums, 2 slums were shifted to the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) housing units. 30-35 people in these units had already lost their lives to jaundice. The people from the slums organized a rally in front of the DRM’s office to protest against the eviction notice and the relocation of the slum dwellers to the unfit BSUP units.

Indore (Madhya Pradesh): Just before the parliamentary election in 2014, The Slum Improvement Federation of Indore sent a Charter of Demands to all political party candidates who stood for the Parliament Election. This was the first time that the slum community in Indore presented their demands to the political representatives.

Ranchi (Jharkhand): One of the slums settled on Railway land was given an eviction notice without any provisions of rehabilitation. The slum dwellers filed a case in the High Court and successfully received a stay order till an appropriate rehabilitation plan could be drafted for them. 

Policy Recommendations

1. There is an immediate need for a Rehabilitation & Resettlement policy by the Ministry of Railways, Government of India.
2. There should be proper guidance to include slums on Railway land in housing schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojana.
3. The slums on Railway lands should be included under central and state government policies and programs for housing and urban poverty alleviation.
4. There should be an immediate halt on demolitions of slums on Railway lands till there are provisions for alternate accommodation.
5. Denial of basic amenities like water supply and sanitation to slums that are located on Railway lands is a violation of the rights of the urban poor. All the basic services should be provided to the slums on Railway land, as they are provided to other slums without any discrimination.


The slum dwellers in India face multiple threats to their lives, livelihood and habitat, especially those living on Railway land. Being labeled as “illegal occupants” or “encroachers”, they are evicted using flimsy reasons at many occasions, denying them their basic rights. By constituting bodies like the RLDA, the Ministry of Railways is acting like a land lord that grabs others’ land and then sells it for huge profits. In the past, public land was given to the Department of Railways with the specific purpose of carrying out railways-related activities. However, the Ministry of Railways is now trying to generate revenue by selling/leasing the same land to private developers; in sharp contrast to the specific purpose for which the land was acquired. This is being done by evicting the slum dwellers from their lands they are living on without proper rehabilitation or resettlement plans. In such cases, what we see is the misuse of law and authority to aid private companies and developers. As such, it becomes imperative for the civil society to raise its voice against the exploitation of public land for commercial purposes. In case of any eviction, the government must follow the guidelines to properly compensate the evicted and to help the poor slum dwellers lead a life of dignity.

Case studies from different states cited in this article have been possible, because of the inputs given by the following persons:
1. Bharat Kantharia – Samath Trust (Gujarat)
2. Lakhi Das - Adarsh Seva Sasthan (Jharkhand)
3. Abdul Shakeel – Haq (Delhi)
4. Anand Lakhan – Deen Bandhu Samaj Sahyog (Madhya Pradesh)
5. Ranjan Kumar Singh – NIDAAN (Bihar)


Census Data 2011 (Government of India)

Human Development Report on Bombay Municipal Corporation by the United Nations Development Programme

RTIs filed to RLDA and the Ministry of Railways, India.