No city for Khori Gaon residents
Forced eviction during a pandemic in the name of forest conservation
Keywords: Bourgeois environmentalism, revanchist urbanism, conservation-led displacement, forced eviction, informal settlements
In the last decade, conservation-led displacements have intensified in India’s peri-urban areas, especially in the Delhi NCR (National Capital Region). While global academic discourses on urban informality and poverty have transcended the hegemonic ways of thinking about informal settlements as a lack of development, within the legal and public domains in India, the debates that informal settlement residents are ‘free-loaders,’ ‘encroachers’ and ‘land-grabbers’ are still dominant. Courts and most state governments have blamed the urban poor for environmental degradation while forests are regularly being handed over for mining, infrastructure projects and real estate developments. This article explores a recent case of conservation-led displacement in India. Khori Gaon, a 50-year-old settlement of more than 100,000 residents, was demolished following a Supreme Court order declaring they were forest encroachers during the pandemic. I argue that the settlement’s forced eviction follows a distinct pattern within displacement mechanisms driven by a revanchist ideology and advanced through a process of criminalization and dehumanization of the urban poor, leading to a degradation of human rights.