Delivering vigilante justice in the garb of demolitions?

The Supreme Court has intervened to stop a worrying trend under which various states and NDMC bulldozed many structures allegedly without following due process of law. The demolished structures mostly belong to targeted religious minorities, reports Mudit Mathur

The Supreme Court of India has finally intervened stopping the worrying trend of demolition which saw various states and NDMC demolish many structures using bulldozers, allegedly, without following due process of law in the name of removing illegal encroachments which by and large belong to targeted religious minorities.

The apex court has to examine the allegations as to whether the states and its civic bodies have assumed the role of the judge, jury and executioner – all by themselves, and have been undertaking demolition drives to punish persons who have not even been found guilty by any process of law – showing total disregard for the settled law as well as the directions of the top court while executing demolitions.

The apex court has taken serious view on non-compliance of  its orders in continuing demolition drive by NDMC in Jahangirpuri area where communal riots had broken out during “Hanuman Jayanti” processions just a few days earlier disturbing peace and harmony in the area. Reports of such demolitions with rolling bulldozers hogging limelight in media are appearing from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi where allegations of targeted violence against the people belonging to minorities and weaker sections have surfaced with political overtones.

The writ petitions were filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and many other public personalities including CPM leader Brinda Karat, Advocates Madhu Saran, Rebecca George, Amita V Joseph, Pyoli, Somesh Chandra Jha, Purvish Jitendra Malkan, Aldanish Rein, Mohd. Asad Khan, Adil Sharfuddin, Mary Mitzee Mayne and Sumita Hazarika in the interest of the poor persons who have now been rendered homeless or without a source of livelihood. The authorities brought bulldozers for demolishing shops, houses and parts of religious places etc. mostly belonging to poor citizens residing there for many decades.

In their PIL the advocates, mostly practicing before the apex court, narrated the instance of Jahangirpuri demolition in the background of violence that rocked the Jahangirpuri area of Delhi on April 16, 2022 during an aggressive Hanuman Jayanti procession where violence erupted.

The incidents happened when a “Shobha Yatra” was taken out on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti and attempts were made to enter the mosque with saffron flags chanting slogans such as ‘Jisko is desh mein rehna hoga, Jai Sri Ram kehna hoga’ (if you want to live in this country, you must say Jai Sri Ram), as claimed by one of the persons whose shop was near the Mosque.

Clashes had erupted which ultimately led to stone pelting and property of people being vandalized. Reports were published that two communities clashed against each other in front of a mosque.

Initially, an FIR was registered against certain accused persons and 14 arrests were made in the matter. However, by April 19 over 25 arrests had been made in the matter of people belonging to both Muslim and Hindu community.

The PIL stated that the Delhi BJP Chief Adesh Gupta on April 19 wrote to the Mayor of North Delhi Municipal Corporation to identify the illegal constructions of the ‘rioters’ in Jahangirpuri and demolish it using bulldozers. The same day a notification was issued by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) on 19.04.2022 for carrying out an ‘encroachment removal action programme’ comprising of PWD, local body, Police and the Works/Maintenance Department, Health Department, Sanitation Department, Veterinary Department and the Enforcement Cell in the Jahangirpuri Area within a span of three days.

The NDMC directed all these officials to be present at Jahangirpuri for ‘encroachment removal action programme’ at 2 pm on April 20.  Despite the Apex Court’s Order dated April 20 staying this demolition drive, the demolition drive continued for more than an hour causing demolition and destruction of many houses, shops, religious places and carts of hawkers, etc.

The same Mosque suffered some damage as part of the demolition drive which happened on April 20. Apart from this, there are other shops and houses mostly belonging to the poor citizens in the area which were demolished. According to the PIL, even after the order of Supreme Court, the Authorities continued with the demolition on the technical ground that the order was not supplied to them despite the fact that about passing of the said order, the electronic media reported and the reporters conveyed the said facts to them in person.

The petitioners alleged that the NDMC has not followed the due process of law as had been laid down in the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, and  rather they have breached the law laid down as per the Act. The Act clearly specifies in Section 343 that the Commissioner has to notify the persons whose house or establishment falls under the encroached area and shall be demolished and should await proper show cause from such person as to why such property should not be demolished. No notice was ever served upon the residents of Jahangirpuri as per law.

The petitioners also contended that appeal against the orders of demolition orders is maintainable before Appellate Tribunal, which after giving the parties to the appeal an opportunity of being heard, pass such orders thereon as it thinks fit, confirming, modifying or annulling the order or notice appealed against or may refer the case back to the authority or officer against whose order or notice the appeal is filed, for a fresh order or notice, after taking additional evidence, if necessary, or such other action as the Appellate Tribunal may specify.

In another writ petition filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind through Advocate on Record Kabir Dixit agitates a disturbing trend that has emerged in several States of precipitative punitive action by way of demolition of residential and commercial properties being undertaken by civil and municipal authorities against persons accused in criminal cases, without any due process of law being followed. Petition seeks directions to the Union of India and all the concerned States directing that no precipitative action be taken against the residential or commercial property of any accused in any criminal proceedings as an extra-legal punitive measure and any demolition exercise of any nature must be carried out strictly in accordance with applicable laws, and only after due notice and opportunity of hearing to each of the affected persons.

The petitioner represented through its Secretary of the Legal Cell of Gulzar Ahmed Noor Mohammed Azmi further prayed that directions be issued for strict action to be taken against officials of the State machinery who participate in such an illegal exercise of demolition and urged strict action be taken against Ministers, Legislators and officers of the State/Central government unconnected with the criminal investigation who make statements apportioning criminal responsibility publicly or through any official communication regarding crimes reported to have been committed until determination by a criminal court.

The petition reveals that in response to alleged acts of communal violence, the administration in several States including Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi has been employing bulldozers to raze down the houses of persons suspected to be involved in such acts/ incidents. A number of ministers and legislators in each of these States, including the Chief Minister and the Home Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, have made statements advocating such acts and have especially threatened the minority groups with destruction of their homes and commercial properties in case of communal riots.

The petitioner alleged targeted destruction of residential and commercial properties has been carried out to a great extent against persons belonging to minority groups such as Muslims, Dalits and tribals. The statement of Narottam Mishra, the Home Minister for Madhya Pradesh, is important in the light of such events who gave disturbing statements widely reported in the media, “We’ll destroy the houses from where stones were thrown” and “If Muslims carry out such attacks, then they should not expect justice”.

“Such acts amount to use of the State machinery for dispensing vigilante justice, and threaten to destroy rule of law and people’s faith in the social contract. Resorting to such measures/ actions is unknown to law and is clearly against our constitutional ethos and the criminal justice system, and is also a gross violation of the rights of accused persons who are made to suffer through such acts of vigilante justice before any Court of law has found them guilty,” the petitioners contended.

Urging rhe Supreme Court to step in to stop the situation from escalating any further and also prevent such acts from being repeated in other States as well, the petition said, “Such measures by the governments undermine the rule of law and make a mockery of the criminal justice system of our country, including the important role of the courts. The legal process, including the pre-trial and trial stage, is hindered by these acts of the State. Therefore, immediate action is needed to prevent such incidents from occurring. The States wherein such measures are being employed by the administrative authorities have been carrying them out with impunity as they are being supported by the top leadership in the said States.”

“These acts of illegal demolition of properties also violate the constitutional right of affected persons to enjoy peaceful possession of their properties guaranteed under Article 300A. The fact that at least one of the demolished property was built under the Central Government’s initiative called “Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana” to provide affordable housing to the economically weaker sections of the society proves the falsity of the justification being given in such incidents of the properties being built illegally,” the petitioner argues.

‘Bulldozers have become an instrument of state policy’

A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai while ordered continuance of status quo on the grounds of Jahangirpuri, issued a notice to the NDMC, the Union government, and the state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in petitions filed by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind.

Jamiat, in its petitions, had said that actions like razing a house in a criminal proceeding as a punishment are unknown to criminal law. “We’ll take serious view of demolition that took place after information was given to Mayor,” the bench said.

The NDMC’s demolition drive with bulldozers continued until hours after the Supreme Court’s order asking to maintain status quo. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave came back to the court urging it to pay attention to the fact that the demolitions were still continuing. Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana then asked the court registry to convey the order to the DCP and police immediately.

Next day before nominated Bench of justice L. Nageshwar Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai,the senior advocate Dave submitted that this was a matter of “national importance” and that it had become “state policy” to target a particular section of the society using bulldozers. He also asked how bulldozers had become an instrument of state policy?

“This is not an issue confined to Jahangirpuri. It is a matter affecting social fabric of our country. If this is allowed, there will be no rule of law left. How is it that the President of the BJP writes a letter to the Municipal Commissioner to start demolitions and they demolish after that? The Municipal Corporation Act provides for service of notice, appeals. Look at the Olga Tellis case,” Dave submitted.

Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta had alleged after clashes that the violence was the result of the AAP government aiding illegal stay of “Rohingya and Bangladeshi immigrants”. On Tuesday, Gupta wrote to the NDMC mayor to identify the illegal constructions of  “rioters” in Jahangirpuri and demolish it using bulldozers. Dave also highlighted the presence of legislation in Delhi which regularised colonies.

“There are 731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi with lakhs of people and you pick up one colony because you target single community!” he remarked.“Our [residents] homes are more than 30 years old…our shops are beyond 30 years old…we are in a democracy and how can this be allowed,” Dave further said. Dave highlighted that those whose establishments were destroyed were poor people and delivered searing lines on the inequality of such a measure.

“If you want to act against unauthorised constructions, you go to Sainik Farms. Go to Golf Links where every second home is an encroachment. You don’t want to touch them, but target the poor people,” Dave submitted.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for Jamiat in its second petition – against similar drives in other states – said that the problem of encroachment was being singularly associated with Muslim residents.

To Justice Rao’s question if no Hindu properties were affected, Sibal said there were isolated instances. “When processions are carried out and frictions occur, homes of only one community is bulldozed,” Sibal submitted.

Sibal highlighted comments by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the fact that residents in Jahangirpuri were locked inside gates while their property was demolished.“What is this process, to instill fear to side-line rule of law?,” Sibal queried.

To Sibal’s request that an order be passed to stop demolitions like this, the Supreme Court said it cannot pass a blanket order on a country-wide basis.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat has also moved the Supreme Court against the demolitions that took place, highlighting that they continued for several hours even after the apex court had ordered status quo.

For Brinda Karat, senior advocate P.V. Surendranath pointed out the timing of the demolition and the fact that the CPI(M) leader had to physically stand in front of the bulldozers to stop them.

“Had she not been there the entire C block would have got demolished,” Surendranath said. He also said that while the mayor had said at 11 am that the Supreme Court’s order will be complied with, the drive continued till after 12 noon.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the NDMC, submitted that Wednesday’s demolition drive was part of one which began in January. He also claimed that notices were given but his claim was refuted by senior advocate Sanjay R Hegde, who appeared for one Ganesh Gupta whose juice stall was destroyed.

Mehta also disputed the claim that the drive targeted Muslims, claiming that in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone more Hindu property than Muslims’ was destroyed.


Bulldozers come in handy to get even with rioters, gangsters

After clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities took place in Manawar Tehsil of Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district on December 23, 2021, a house belonging to three Muslim persons accused of being involved in the said incident was destroyed by the State administration.

After violent clashes between the Muslim and tribal community took place on the occasion of Holi on March 18, 2022 in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, houses of Muslims were destroyed by the authorities in retaliation.

Houses of three persons of minority religious community accused of gang-rape in Sheopur District, Madhya Pradesh were demolished after the incident as punishment on March 20, 2022.

The house of two brothers belonging to Muslim community and accused of gang-rape was partially demolished in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh by the police authorities on March 30, 2022 in order to get them to surrender. The police station in-charge also praised his team for bravery after the demolition drive was carried out.

After clashes between two groups belonging to Hindu and Muslim communities on the occasion of Ram Navami and Ramzan on April 10, 2022, numerous shops and residential premises belonging mostly to the Muslim community were destroyed in different parts of Madhya Pradesh.

Twelve houses including some built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana demolished in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, as part of a ‘drive’ against ‘illegal properties’ following communal clashes during a Ramnavami procession. One such example is that of a lady named Hasina who was provided the house under the said scheme/ initiative by the Madhya Pradesh Government just a short while before her premises was razed down.

The house of a murder accused was demolished using a bulldozer in Rampur on April 13, 2022 in Uttar Pradesh after the accused persons purportedly escaped from their home after committing the said crime.

Razing of houses and commercial properties was initiated in several districts of Madhya Pradesh after clashes took place between the Hindu and Muslim communities on the occasion of Ram Navami a few days earlier on April 15, 2022. At least 45 properties, including 29 houses and 16 shops, have been demolished till date as a punitive measure for the communal clashes that took place in the State.

Properties, mostly shops, belonging to persons accused in riot cases in Khambhat, Gujarat were demolished by the State Government on April 15, 2022.

An FIR was registered against three persons who are already in custody since the past one and a half month in Sendhwa, Barwani District, Madhya Pradesh in connection with the communal clashes that took place in the district. The house of one of the accused was also demolished as punishment on April 15, 2022.

Demolition exercise undertaken by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation in Jahangirpuri, New Delhi reportedly against persons suspected to be accused in the incidents of communal violence that occurred in the area on April 20, 2022

The Uttar Pradesh government used bulldozers to evacuate illegal properties worth Rs. 813 Crores from the 25 listed Mafias gangs and its 636 associates. Putting them behind the bars in criminal offences, the government has confiscated their allegedly ill-gotten immovable properties and got released government land from their illegal possession.

These gangs from eastern UP include Atiq Ahmad of Allahabad, Mokhtar Ansari of Mau, Brajesh Singh of Varanasi, Dhurv Kumar Singh of Azamgarh and Khan Mubarak of Ambedkar Nagar.

The government bulldozed to rubbles the properties of Mokhtar Ansari’s sons Abbas and Umar worth five crores in the posh locality Dalibagh of Lucknow alleging to be an evacuee property unlawfully got inserted in the revenue records. The SDM, Lucknow, passed an order in 2020 restoring it back to evacuee property but subsequently High Court set aside the SDM’s orders. Meanwhile the Mokhtar’s two sons’ property was demolished. However, his brother Afzal Ansari got judicial reprieve from the High Court securing stay orders on demolition and cancellation of map by LDA on just adjoining house.

The gangs from western UP include the names of Uddham Singh, Yogesh Bhadura of Meerut, Ajit Happu of Bagpat, Shushil alias Muchh, Sanjiv Maheshwari alias Jeeva of Muzaffarnagar, Akash Jat of Shamli, Sunder Bhati, Singraj Bhati, Ankit Gujjar, Anil Dujana, Anil Bhati of Gautam Buddha Nagar, Amit Kasana of Ghaziabad, Muneer of Bijnor and Om Prakash Srivastav alias Bablu of Lucknow and others.