Updated: April 21, 2022 8:17:01 am
Hit by communal violence days earlier, Jahangirpuri in North West Delhi saw seven bulldozers roll into the neighbourhood Wednesday on orders of the BJP-led North Delhi Municipal Corporation, razing parts of several structures, including the exterior gate of a place of worship.
The demolition, which started around 10.15 am, went on for two hours despite the Supreme Court’s directions at 11 am that status quo be maintained. The matter will be heard by a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai Thursday.
The demolition action came a day after the civic body wrote to the North West DCP requesting 400 police personnel for what it called was an “anti-encroachment drive”.
This came after Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta had also written to the North MCD Mayor Tuesday demanding that “illegal encroachment done by rioters be bulldozed”.
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Before 8 am Wednesday, a heavy deployment of police, CRPF and Rapid Action Force was in place in Jahangirpuri, which saw violence following a Shobha Yatra on Hanuman Jayanti on April 16 — 10-12 people, including six police personnel, were injured and police have picked up 23 people since then.
Scrap dealers and vegetable vendors scurried to pack their belongings in white gunny sacks, with one question on everyone’s lips: “Bulldozer aa gaya?”
With residents coming out of their homes to see what was going on, security forces – numbering over 1,000 – confined people in narrow lanes and took up positions on rooftops.
Senior officers, including Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) North Dependra Pathak and DCP Northwest Usha Rangnani, surveyed the area.
Pathak said adequate force had been deployed to “assist MCD in their operations” and that they would “uphold the law and order situation”.
At 10.15 am, the first bulldozer rolled into Kushal Cinema chowk, making its way past the police barricades and splitting a food cart in half. The bulldozer then razed part of a kiosk selling soft drinks and tobacco.
Rahima, 30, a mother of three, broke down at the sight of the bulldozer crushing three fridges which her family had bought after taking a loan of Rs 2 lakh. “Hum sab par bhi bulldozer chadha do (Run us over too). They should have given us notice first. We would have taken away all our goods. We have been living here for 15 years. All colonies in Delhi have such encroachments, it was never a problem earlier. We are being targeted only because of the recent violence,” she said, picking up bottles of cold drinks from the rubble.
Police personnel took Rahima and her family inside their home and locked it from the outside, saying, “Jab khatam hoga khol denge (We will unlock it when it ends).”
Raman Jha (52), a father of five, who lives with his family in a JJ cluster, watched as the bulldozer razed his paan shop next. “I have been out since 7 am and the police had promised me this was an encroachment drive that will not target shops,” he said.
A few minutes later, at 10.30 am, as a second bulldozer manoeuvred into Kushal Chowk, Jamila pleaded with the authorities to stop the drive as her husband Hussain’s cart was razed.
“Earlier, when MCD staff used to come, they would inform us a day in advance and we would pack our things. There was no notice this time. Ek samuday ko target kiya ja raha hai (One community is being targeted),” Hussain said.
With four bulldozers now at work, senior advocate Dushyant Dave brought up the matter in the Supreme Court, during ‘mentioning hours’ when cases that require urgent attention are brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of India.
Dave, who appeared for the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, told the court: “This is completely unauthorised, unconstitutional, demolition which is now ordered in Delhi, in Jahangirpuri area, where allegedly riots took place”.
He contended that under municipal laws, notice has to be given before carrying out any demolition and this wasn’t done for the drive in Jahangirpuri.
“Without notice to anyone, under the Municipal Corporation Act at least 5 to 15 days notice is required, they have a right to appeal against that…”, said Dave. He pointed out that though the demolition was planned to start at 2 pm, it had already started at 9 am “knowing that we are going to mention it”.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana, ordered that “status quo, as exists today, shall be maintained, until further order”, and listed the matter for Thursday.
The Supreme Court’s directions, though, fell on deaf ears, as the demolition activity continued. “We have no information till now about the order to stop, so action will continue,” said North MCD Commissioner Sanjay Goel, who was at the spot.
Incidentally, it is settled law that officials cannot delay enforcement of Court orders until a formal signed copy is provided.
Minutes later, North MCD Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh said that while the Supreme Court order had not reached them, “we are stopping it (the demolition)”.
Yet, the bulldozers continued chipping away the facades, reaching a juice shop owned by Ganesh Kumar Gupta. The 54-year-old said his shop was legal and allotted by the DDA in 1977. “My father used to run it before me. I have all the documents, but the authorities did not wait. No notice was served in advance. I have suffered a loss of at least Rs 5 lakh. This shop is my only source of income. I have four children. I will now approach the court. They continued to demolish the structure despite the SC order coming in.”
Next, the vehicles arrived at the main gate of the mosque near which violence had erupted last Saturday.
Around noon, an outside gate of the mosque was torn down, while the one behind it was left intact. This led to some women coming out on the streets in protest, only to be met by policemen in riot gear who chased them back into the lanes of C-Block.
As reports of the demolition continued to pour in even after the SC order, Dave once again approached the court a little after noon and raised this. “I am sad. Despite the world knowing that this court passed orders, they are not stopping. It sends a terribly wrong message,” he said, urging the court: “They say order is not communicated. Please communicate, ask the Secretary General… It’s widely reported in the media immediately. This is not right. We are a rule of law society.”
Taking note, the CJI asked the counsel about the officials it should be communicated to, and directed that its order be passed on to them though the Registrar General or Secretary General “immediately”.
“It will be late otherwise,” Dave said.
“We are communicating,” responded the CJI.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal told the court that there is a petition pending about a similar demolition drive in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. He urged the court to list that also on Thursday. The court agreed to the request and tagged both together.
Back in Jahangirpuri, the bulldozers quietened down a little after noon, as people who had parts of their shops destroyed gathered to collect whatever possessions they could.
At 3.40 pm, Punender Yadav, 23, a bulldozer driver who hails from Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh, prepared to leave. “I will return when the call comes. I got Rs 8,000 for today’s assignment.”
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