Right to shelter, though not expressly mentioned in the Indian Constitution, is guaranteed through judicial pronouncements which extended the preview of Article 19 and Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Adequate housing provides a basis for the strength and reliability of an individual or his family, focusing on the social, emotional, and economic aspects of their lives. Thus, home is a place to live in peace, security, and dignity. Shelter plays an integral role in reducing vulnerability and building resilience. Apart from all the other consequences of poor housing, the major one, which affects the lives of all sections of society equally, is health. It is so clear that housing conditions can influence an individual’s physical _and mental health and well-being. Adequate housing under International Law means having a secured tenure or not having fear of being evicted. In a nutshell, a place where one can keep the culture, and have a proper availability of education, employment, etc. The right to shelter is too often violated with immunity, because, at the ground level, housing is hardly treated as a human right.
Meaning of Shelter
“Shelter” has different meanings for animals and Human beings and that must be taken into consideration while explaining the need for it in society. For animals, it is merely the protection of the body whereas, for humans, the meaning reaches to a wide extent where one could find worthy settlements, which ultimately aids him to prosper in all the areas of his life including physical, mental, and intellectual. Thus, the Right to Shelter should be guaranteed in a civilized society equally to all subjects. It covers the principal necessities of life subsistence in its pursuit.
Right to Shelter: An Internationally recognized right
To avail oneself of his rudimentary human rights is a requisite for full development as a human being. Several international legal principles explain the sheer responsibility of the state to secure the rights regarding Shelter. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Promises every person security in employment and other areas, circumstances which are beyond his control, and assure the proper standard of living for the well-being of the individual as well as of his family. The article includes the basic requisites of life, subsistence requirements, and security for a better lifestyle. In Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, 1996. In Article 27 (para 3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The non-discriminatory provisions provided under Article 12 [para 2(h)] of the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and Article 5(e) of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. The essence of the right can also be traced by the reference to several other human rights treaties. According to General comment no. 4 by United Nations Committee on Economic, social and cultural rights, adopted in 1991, the Right to sufficient housing does not only provide merely a concrete structure but guarantees even more. Despite these international legal provisions, human beings are deprived of their right to housing as there is a lack of vigilance and education in society and people do not know how to avail such rights.
The Constitutional status of the Right to Shelter
All over the globe, people spend a remarkable amount of time and energy acquiring shelter for themselves. Indian Constitution, despite being the lengthiest and bulkiest constitution in the world, providing several rights to citizens and a series of rules to protect them, does not hold any specific mention of the Right to Shelter in the Fundamental rights. However, provisions regarding the rights to housing and shelter are interpreted through various Judicial pronouncements derived from Article 21, securing the Right to Life. Also, Article 19(e) guarantees to every citizen of India to settle and live in any part of Indian territory. The mentioned right is also subjected to the reasonable restriction, imposed by the state, by law, under Article 19(5) :
- For the interests of common people, or
- Concerning the Schedule Tribes
Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of the Right to Shelter in the major judgment of Chameli Singh v. State of U.P as a shelter for the human being is not only the protection of one’s life and limb, but it is a place where he has opportunities to grow physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually. India, being welfare in nature, becomes the duty of the state to play a proactive role in promoting the welfare of the people. According to Article 38(2) that It should strive to minimize the inequalities in the income of the people, eliminating the inequalities of the status and opportunities not only among the people but also amongst the group of people engaging in different vocations
Indian Judiciary has played an integral part in interpreting the laws of the land. The right to adequate housing has always been an area of concern for the nation and people at large. Article 21 had failed to focus the attention of the judiciary and the Right to Livelihood remained unnoticed. The right to property which was originally granted to the citizens under the Right to property, considered to be closely related to the people’s Right to Shelter, was struck down by the (Forty-forth Amendment) Act, 1978, providing the status of Constitutional Rights within the head of Article 300A. The court emphasized in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation that the state should provide alternate sites for their resettlements and livelihood. The right to residence is assured under Article 19(e) and the Right to life under Article 21 includes the Right to Shelter and building houses for the same. The right to shelter is a requisite of a civilized society and within its ambit, it includes the right to food, clothing, a decent environment, and reasonable accommodation to live in as held in Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame. In the case of the State of Karnataka v. Narasimhamurthy, the court said that State is duty-bound to provide facilities to the poor and help them build their residence to avail their right and to give their life meaning. And Right to Shelter is a Fundamental Right that is guaranteed under Article 19(e) read with Article 21 of the Constitution of India, held in Rajesh Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh. These path-breaking judgments broadened the scope and compelled the state to provide the means and the right set of circumstances for people to make their life meaningful.
Homelessness: A cause of Death
Poverty, income, and the absence of shelter in one’s life increase the chances of the homeless getting involved in various illegal activities like abuse, violence, mental illness, sexual abuse, and death. Living without any form of shelter, on the streets, affects the lives of individuals and their families, equally. With the data of the 2011 census of India, more than 1.7 million homeless people live in the country, where 938,384 people reside in cities. Of course, the stated data does not show the real numbers. Also, a report from the Zonal Integrated police network i.e., (ZipNet), an online portal, documents ‘unidentified dead bodies’, estimated that 70-75 percent of the unidentified deaths are the deaths of homeless people. It was also calculated by the Housing and Land Rights Network from 10th January 31st May 2016, approximately 30,000 people died due to exposure to heat and cold, diseases, sexual abuse, and drug overdose. Forced eviction is also one of the causes of the deaths as people remained with no option except to live in extremities.
Indian courts have stressed the implied link of the Right to shelter with the right to life through various judgments. In addition to this, there are several relevant urban as well as rural policies and laws working for the housing and protection of land rights. Most people, despite several aids, face inequalities regarding Human rights, Right to adequate housing. For this, it is the prime duty of the state to take up strict measures for the implementation of laws, policies, and judgments. Government should also implement the UN recommendations on human rights and adequate housing. There is a need to understand the true essence of the rights regarding shelter, to remove the misconception regarding its link to land rights, so that next time people knock on the door of the court whenever required.
Author(s) Name: Hiba Irfan Khan (Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University)