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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Locals versus bulldozer in Shaheen Bagh, demolition drive unsuccessful

Police and the CRPF were deployed in the area for a demolition drive that was supposed to be carried out by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind , Malhar Mishra | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 1:29:59 am
The bulldozer moved towards a two-storey building which had shuttered shops on the ground floor. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

No demolitions were carried out at Shaheen Bagh Monday, with residents and representatives of the Congress and AAP gathering in front of the bulldozer that had arrived in the morning.

Over 150 police personnel from South and Southeast districts and CRPF were deployed for the demolition drive, supposed to be carried out by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), after police agreed to provide security on Monday morning.

The day’s events played out in front of a row of shops, including branded retail stores, that were closed. A large crowd gathered around the bulldozer that stood near shops on the service road alongside GD Birla Marg.

Shaheen Bagh was at the centre of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in 2019-2020, as residents gathered on the streets for months.

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On Monday, as the bulldozer inched forward, it was initially blocked by representatives of the Congress. Protesters, including Okhla Block Congress Committee president Parvez Alam, sat in front of the bulldozer in an effort to prevent the drive. Alam was put into a bus by police and driven away. People also marched alongside the bulldozer as it moved forward, sloganeering against Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta. AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan who represents Okhla, joined the crowd around the bulldozer.

The bulldozer then moved towards a two-storey building which had shuttered shops on the ground floor. While it attempted to take the scaffolding down, residents dismantled it themselves. The bulldozer backed off and left soon after, and security forces dispersed.

The drive, which started around 11.30 am, stopped at 1.30 pm. Mohammad Saleem, vice-president of the Shaheen Bagh RWA, who helped dismantle the scaffolding, said it had been put up temporarily for the building to be whitewashed. “Locals dismantled it themselves… There is no issue of encroachments anywhere here. If they haven’t cleared anything, and nothing was demolished, then what encroachment was here to begin with?” he said.

A shop owner in the building where the scaffolding was removed, said, “Does anyone care about us? It feels like a circus here. The MCD was here to scare us and damaged the scaffolding. We said we can remove it on our own. We suffered damage of Rs 10,000-Rs 20,000. The structure was only made to erect a board for an advertisement.”

“We won’t let the BJP destroy our shops. I have been selling motor parts here for 10 years. I have all the maps signed by MCD. In the evening, there are vendors who come but they leave with their carts. Nobody is scared…,” said Md Armaan (41), a resident of Jamia Nagar, who runs a shop in Shaheen Bagh.

Abdul Wajid Khan, AAP councillor representing Abul Fazal Enclave, said there were no encroachments in the area where the crowd and the bulldozer had assembled.

Local resident Samir Khan added: “The people here stand with the MCD and the administration in removing anything illegal, but we are not with them in the way they are going about it right now. This is done to defame Shaheen Bagh. We see bulldozers being used freely by this government, in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and in Delhi. Is this country run by the Constitution, or by bulldozers?”

Blaming AAP and Congress leaders, SDMC Mayor Mukkesh Suryaan said, “The main reason for stopping the drive was that AAP and Congress leaders wanted rioting… We did not want that… We only wanted to complete our job.”

He said the drive was only against encroachment on roads like extended temporary structures: “People in the area have asked for 3-4 days to remove all encroachments. We have given them time. If they don’t remove it, a fresh drive will be held.” He said a drive is planned in New Friends Colony on Tuesday: “We do not anticipate trouble there. We are doing simple anti-encroachment drives. The Delhi government says it will widen roads, but there is encroachment everywhere, how will they do it?”

An ACP-level officer at the spot said, “We were told to reach around 11 am. Half an hour later, people raised slogans and blocked the road… We tried to pacify them but locals gathered in huge numbers. Seeing the situation, MCD officials left. Local staff stayed for some time as other security personnel were dispersed.”

MCD officials earlier met police officers at Shaheen Bagh police station to take stock of security arrangements. “We were told that a few shops near the 40 feet road (where anti-CAA/NRC protests were held in 2019) were illegal and encroaching on the streets. However, before anyone could reach the spot, locals gathered in front of the bulldozer and protested,” said another officer posted in the Southeast district.

The protests led to traffic snarls at Shaheen Bagh, Kalindi Kunj, Sarita Vihar and Mathura Road. “We had to deploy extra staff to ensure commuters don’t suffer. We diverted a few vehicles from Shaheen Bagh to GD Birla Marg and other places such as Crowne Plaza. We kept one of the carriageways in Shaheen Bagh open for commuters. Buses and trucks were asked to use Mathura road and avoid the area,” said an officer.

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