Rajat Sharma

Jahangirpuri: Demolition drive was not carried out by following proper procedure

AKBThe Supreme Court on Thursday directed that ‘status quo’ shall remain until further orders as far as the razing of illegal encroachments in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri locality is concerned.

The apex court issued notices to all parties and the next hearing shall take place after two weeks. A bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai said, “status quo to be maintained till further orders..List after two weeks and pleadings to be completed till then.”

The bench said it “will take a serious view of the demolition which was carried out even after Supreme Court’s orders, even after North Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor was informed. We will take that up later.” Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing on behalf of petitioner Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, told the court that the “matter raises far-reaching questions of constitutional and national importance”, on which the bench asked: “What is national importance in this matter? It is only pertaining to an area.” Dave replied that use of bulldozers is going on everywhere wherever riots are taking place.

Now that the issue of demolition of illegal encroachments has been put on halt, let us go through what happened on Wednesday morning, when nine bulldozers of NDMC reached Jahangirpuri. This was the same locality where stoning and arson had taken place on Saturday evening during Hanuman Jayanti procession.

By the time the Supreme Court order on maintaining status quo reached municipal authorities, several shops and illegal encroachments had already been demolished. Allegations were made that Muslim properties were targeted, while Hindu properties were left untouched, but facts prove otherwise. Shops owned by both Hindus and Muslims on illegally encroached land were demolished.

Allegations were made that the mosque was demolished, which was a blatant lie. The front portion of the mosque built on encroached land was demolished. Allegations were made that Hindu temple was left untouched. The fact is, the bulldozer reached the temple to demolish encroachments, but, by that time, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat came, stood in front of the JCB and showed the Supreme Court order, and the demolition drive was halted. By late evening, the temple management demolished the constructions made on encroached land.

Political parties jumped into the fray and levelled allegations and counter-allegations. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi described this as “a demolition of India’s Constitutional values. This is state-sponsored targeting of poor and minorities. BJP must bulldoze the hatred in their hearts instead.”

Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav tweeted: “BJP has made bulldozer the symbol of its illegal might. Muslims, other minorities, OBCs and Dalits are the targets. Even Hindus are now becoming the target. BJP is bulldozing the Constitution. It should make bulldozer its poll symbol.”

Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia alleged, “this drama of demolishing illegal encroachments is being done now. For the last 15 years, why did the MCD, ruled by BJP, allow these encroachments to come up? Which BJP leader took money and allowed those illegal encroachments?”

All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi visited Jahangirpuri on Wednesday night, and described the demolition drive as “vigilante justice” and “targeted demolition”. He said, “Muslims are facing collective punishment, and the rulers should be scared of the curse of the poor. You demolished shops in front of the mosque, and why not in front of the temple? I condemn this targeted demolition.”

The social media was hyperactive with trends like #StopBulldozingMuslimHouses . The fact is, not a single Muslim house was demolished, and shops belonging to both Hindu and Muslim shopkeepers were demolished. The bulldozers razed the shops of Raman Jha, Gupta Juice Corner, Sumit Saxena and other Hindus too.

Shops and homes built on encroached public land must be demolished, and there must be no differentiation on the basis of religion. If parks, roads and drains are encroached and constructions made, these must be demolished. There can be no two views on it. The question is: why were these illegal encroachments allowed to be made for the last two to three decades? What were the MCD officials doing who were supposed to stop such encroachments? Severe action must be taken against them.

Moreover, demolitions cannot be done out of the blue. Notices must be served by MCD before a demolition drive begins, so that the encroachers can remove their constructions on their own. In Jahangirpuri, notices were pasted at night, police force was sought by early morning, and the bulldozers arrived to do the demolition job. This is against the principles of natural justice. It was because of this that the Supreme Court had to order a status quo on the demolition drive. I think, this was a correct and timely stop. Encroachment on public land is not a Hindu-Muslim issue.

The Supreme Court has provided relief to those who watched helplessly as their shops and buildings were demolished by bulldozers. Though encroachment of government land is illegal, one feels sad on seeing homes built by the lower middle class and poor people demolished.

A retired judge told me on Wednesday that there are at least 30 Supreme Court judgements, which has described encroachments of public roads, streets, parks and pavements as illegal.
The Supreme Court judgement in the Bombay Pavement Dwellers Case is a landmark verdict.

Legal experts say that if shops are built on encroached public land, then the local authorities have the right to demolish such structures. But, for doing that, authorities must follow a proper legal procedure. The retired judge told me about the Nishatganj case of Lucknow in which a High Court bench monitored the drive to remove encroachments. Using bulldozers to remove encroachments is not illegal, but local authorities must follow proper procedure.

As far as the charges and counter-charges between politicians are flying thick and thin, I can only say that all of these leaders have their political axe to grind. The demolition in Delhi came into limelight because the shops belonged to Hindus and Muslims, who used to earn daily and belonged to poor and lower middle classes. Naturally, the sentiments of common people are with the poor.

On the other hand, in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, till now, Rs 1700 crore worth encroached public land has been freed by the Yogi Adityanath’s government by using bulldozers against land mafia, gangsters, criminals like Atiq Ahmed, Mukhtar Ansar and Vijay Singh. When bulldozers raze the ill-gotten properties of these gangsters, the common man’s faith in law becomes stronger.

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