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‘India’s legacy of discrimination apparent in housing sector’

PTI 22 Apr 2016, 23:20:20 IST

New Delhi: Evictions and displacements are “quite common” in India and its legacy of discrimination against SCs, women and Muslims is even apparent in the housing sector, a UN Special Rapporteur observed today, irking the government.

After touring parts of India for 12 days to asses status of housing, UN special rapporteur Leilani Farha said bias against Muslims “manifests” in different parts of the country in “different ways” in the housing sector and that government was not focussed on addressing the problem of homelessness.

The rapporteur listed her observations about India’s housing sector at a press conference, noting a detailed report will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at its 34th session in March 2017 in Geneva.

India’s “legacy of discrimination” against scheduled castes, women and religious minorities including Muslims remains “apparent” in housing sector, she said.

Reacting to the observations, the External Affairs Ministry said the reports prepared by the Special Rapporteurs during such visits are their own work, suggesting they were not reflective of UN’s view on India.

”As part of its normative and advocacy work, the Human Rights Council utilises a mechanism known as Special Procedures which includes the appointment of Special Rapporteurs who are independent experts with mandates to report and advise on specific themes or country-specific situations.

”The reports prepared by the Special Rapporteurs during such visits are their own work based on their travel within the country and their interaction with government officials or both at Central and State levels, site visits and community interactions, meetings with non-governmental organisation and any others,” the MEA said.

The Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing said India has vast number of pavement-dwellers as well as those living in luxury buildings while making a strong pitch for enactment of a national law to address the issue of right to adequate housing.

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The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council is charged within the UN system with promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. India is presently one of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council.
Farha also expressed concern that addressing homelessness

did not appear to be priority for the government at a time when redressal of the issue is an international human right obligation.

She also pointed out that evictions and displacement are “quite common” in India and stated those are carried out, mostly without any adherence to international standards and guidelines that exist to guide the eviction process.

”It is very confronting to see people (pavement-dwellers) living in or should I say struggling to live in those conditions.

”I do offer one overriding recommendation. (In) India, central government adopts national legislation that incorporates human rights that address housing issue,” she said.

The rapporteur said what concerned her “most” during the trip is that there doesn’t seem to priority on behalf of the government to address homelessness, which she added, is an international human rights obligation.

”They (pavement-dwellers) are one incident away from death. I saw children playing on sides of busy roads,” she added.

Farha said discrimination “whether direct or indirect” were raised to her on many occasions as “bedrock issues” with regard to housing in India.

”The majority of those who are homeless are or are residing in slums with the worst housing conditions are those members of these and other vulnerable groups,” she said.

Among minorities, Farha said discrimination against Muslims “manifests” in different parts of the country in “different ways” in the housing sector.

”Private landlords, real estate brokers and property dealers will often refuse to rent to someone who is Muslim, or impose unfair conditions.

”It is also the case that Muslims in some parts of the country have felt compelled to leave their homes and migrate to places where other Muslims are living, often in slums,” the Special Rapporteur observed.