Concerns over the recognition of pavement dwellers
Pavements are generally part of public property; but in Bangladesh a huge portion of them are used by homeless people for shelter and livelihood. Due to the pavements being occupied, pedestrians are compelled to walk on the streets, which often makes them vulnerable to the risk of traffic accidents.
The pavement dwellers in our country, specially in Dhaka, lead very inhumane lives. As a developing country with an overburdening population, it is arduous to provide shelter and employment to all of its citizens; but cutting them out of their required basic needs by not ensuring their bare minimum means of shelter is brutally inhumane. They have the right to live with dignity. In Mohammad Tayeeb and Others v The Government of People's Republic of Bangladesh, the dignity of the citizens was given the utmost priority saying, "The dignity of a citizen is no less important than his life or limb. Article 11 casts a duty upon the state to protect the dignity of its citizens."
The pavement dwellers also have a right to life and personal liberty under article 32 of the Constitution, and that right cannot be understood separately. The Indian higher court recognised the right to livelihood and to shelter as a part of the constitutional right to life in the pioneering case of Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation (1986 AIR 180). The Supreme Court of India enlarged the meaning of the right to life by bringing the right to shelter and the right to livelihood under the umbrella of the right to life. It reasoned that "if the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation." It rightly recognised that the right to life is ineffectual without the means by which that right can be meaningfully exercised.
In this case, it was argued that right to life without the right to protection (by the state) of the means by which such a life could be enjoyed is illusory. The same view was upheld in BLAST and Another v Bangladesh and Others (Jhilpara Slum Eviction case), where the Supreme Court of Bangladesh decided that keeping the pavement dwellers homeless and to an insecure life amounts to being contrary to the spirit and principle of articles 15(a)-(b) and 32 of the Constitution. It amounts to the deprivation of their right to shelter as well as their right to life. The process is held to be unconstitutional and the same was found in The Chairman, National Board of Revenue (NBR) v Advocate Zulhas Uddin Ahmed and Others 12 ADC (2015) 302. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights pointed out that the rights to adequate housing should not be intersected narrowly. Rather, it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace, and dignity mentioned in the Committee's general comment No. 4 (1991) on the right to adequate housing.
Bangladesh is undoubtedly one of the most densely populated countries in the world and it is in dire need of balanced population distribution, specifically in Dhaka Metropolitan region. The planning standards in Dhaka Metropolitan City need to be maintained. The pavement dwellers do not have access to the basic amenities, such as drainage, water, and sanitation, that must be ensured. The deficiency of resources cannot be exercised as a defense by a state to defeat the fundamental rights of its citizens.
The Writer is a Research Intern, A.S & Associates.