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Jahangirpuri demolition: SC extends status quo, will look at due process

Bulldozers razed concrete and temporary structures, including the outer gate of a mosque in Jahangirpuri Wednesday as part of the drive by the BJP-ruled civic body, days after the northwest Delhi neighbourhood was rocked by communal violence.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2022 1:25:24 am
Jahangirpuri demolition, Supreme Court, SC Jahangirpuri demolition, Jahangirpuri violation, SC halts demolition, delhi news, Indian expressA view of the site where anti-encroachment drive was carried out at Jahangirpuri in New Delhi. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

The Supreme Court Thursday extended the status quo in Jahangirpuri where the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) had launched an “encroachment removal action programme” the day before and made it clear that it would examine whether due process was followed before the drive.

Bulldozers razed concrete and temporary structures, including the outer gate of a mosque in Jahangirpuri Wednesday as part of the drive by the BJP-ruled civic body, days after the northwest Delhi neighbourhood was rocked by communal violence.

Issuing notice to the Centre and others on two petitions filed by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind — one challenging the drive in Jahangirpuri and another against similar actions in other states — a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai asked those whose properties were allegedly demolished to file affidavits to ascertain if they had received any notice.

The court, however, refused to grant a blanket ban on demolition of encroachments across the country.

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Bulldozers rolled in to Jahangirpuri in New Delhi at around 10 am Wednesday to begin an anti-encroachment drive. (Express Photo)

The Centre denied allegations that Muslims alone had been targeted. Pointing to a Hindu resident of Jahangirpuri approaching the court seeking compensation for demolition of his premises, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for NDMC and Delhi Police, said it “shows that allegations… that one community is targeted are factually incorrect”.

“If the statute provides that something has to be done in a particular manner… (was it) done or not? That’s it… It also provides for an appellate tribunal, and the time given is between 5 to 15 days, not being less than 5 days and more than 15 days,” remarked Justice B R Gavai.

He said this when Mehta countered charges that the action was to punish those who participated in the April 16 communal violence and submitted that notice was issued before the drive was carried out.

On being told by the counsel for petitioners that they had informed the NDMC Mayor about Wednesday’s order — when a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana directed status quo — and that the anti-encroachments drive continued even after that, Justice Rao said: “We are also going to take a serious view of the demolitions that took place after information is given to the Mayor. We will consider that a little later.”

Several street carts and parts of shops were demolished in the exercise. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing in the petition against demolitions in other states, said a WhatsApp message was sent to the Mayor. The court asked what time it was sent to which another counsel said 11.42 (am). But the bench queried again, “Don’t be vague. Just give us a time.” However, there was no reply about the time after that.

Denying allegations that notices were not issued to the affected parties, the SG said: “Notice was issued… The government is also concerned while maintaining rule of law, we are also bound to maintain Delhi Municipal Corporation Act… Let them say that A, B, C D houses or whatever on outside was (on) outskirts was demolished because they participated in the riots, let them come and say”.

“That’s not the issue”, responded Justice Gavai, adding that the question was if statutory provisions were followed.

The Centre, meanwhile, refuted allegations that Muslims alone had been targeted. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Mehta, however, insisted that notice was issued as per the rules.

“Unless your Lordships are informed that this demolition was without notice – they generally come and say that nothing in the country should happen except in accordance with law – let an individual come and say… that I was not served with the notice, I will place the notice on record.”

The bench then said it will ask all those who were allegedly affected to file affidavits and that status quo will continue with the matter being listed after two weeks.

Mehta also denied allegations that NDMC started the action at 9 am instead of the planned 2 pm knowing that the matter was going to be mentioned before the CJI. He explained that the 2 pm timing was for starting demolitions on April 19 while the timing for the drive on April 20 was 9 am as per the NDMC letter.

“The argument was that the given time was 2 o’clock. But because we realised that Mr Dave is going to mention…This 2 o’clock was earlier day (April 19) time. Yesterday, it was to start at 9 am and started at 9 am”, Mehta said, adding he was explaining this “just to remove the prejudice”.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for Jamiat in the plea against action in Jahangirpuri, said: “They never did anything like this in 1984 and 2002, then why now? Delhi has an Act of 2011 which protected every illegal encroachment till December 2023. A particular section of society is being targeted.”

“This is not confined to Jahangirpuri and affects the social fabric of the country. If we allow this, there will be no rule of law or democracy left,” Dave said.

“There are 1731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi housing more than 50 lakh people. But you pick up one colony because you target one community… This is a country which is governed by the Constitution and the rule of law. How can this at all be permitted? It’s not a matter of debate… If you want to act against unauthorised constructions, you go to Sainik Farms. Come to Golf Links, where I stay and where every second home is an encroachment. You don’t want to touch them, but target the poor people.”

The senior counsel contended that “right to life includes the right to a shelter. And it would be inconceivable that without giving notice, they come and do this… This is precisely what we are against, the law of jungle”.

Dave also referred to a letter by a BJP leader to the Mayor asking police to take action against those who had rioted following the Hanuman Jayanti shobha yatra.

Sibal sought a stay on all such drives. But Justice Rao said “we are not going to stay demolitions in the country”. To which Sibal said he was only seeking a stay on demolitions “in this manner, through bulldozers”.

“We will see,” replied the court, adding “demolitions are always with bulldozers or with some other machines”.

Sibal argued that while encroachment is a serious problem, “what is happening today is you are associating Muslims with encroachment. That’s the heart of the problem.”

But Justice Rao asked: “Were no Hindu properties demolished yesterday?”

Mehta said he had statistics from Khargone in Madhya Pradesh where similar action took place to show there was no targeting of any particular community. “There, 88 affected parties are Hindus and 26 are Muslims. These are government records”, he said, adding “I’m sorry I’m required to bifurcate them. Government would not bifurcate them but the petitioner compels me to satisfy your Lordship”.

“In Khargone, notices were issued in the year 2021, hearings were given in 2021. Orders were passed for demolition in 2021 or 2022 and those orders were being implemented”, he said.

“So far as Delhi Jahangirpuri area is concerned,” Mehta said, “the drive was to remove what was lying on the footpath and public roads and which was encroaching upon.”

He said that it had commenced on January 19 and had also taken place on February 2, February 17, and April 11. April 19 “was the… fifth day of the removal of what was necessary for clearing the roads,” but it was carried out only on April 20, he said.

Under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, there is a provision which says notice is not necessary, he argued, and referred to provisions in municipal laws on removal of unauthorised stalls, chairs, or other obstacles from any street or public place.

The bench asked if Wednesday’s drive was only for removal of chairs, boxes etc. Mehta replied that whatever was on the public street, footpaths etc were removed.

The court then queried if a bulldozer was required for that and Mehta added that bulldozers were there because notices were issued to unauthorised structures.

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