The Vadodara City sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) has listed 256 incidents of “communal riots” that took place under 14 police stations in the district to defend the implementation of the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction in Disturbed Areas Act, 1991 (commonly known as the Disturbed Areas Act).
Under the Act, the Collector notifies a particular area of a city or town as “disturbed area” in the context of communal clashes, after which sale of properties in such areas has to be cleared by the district administration.
In an affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court on August 14, SDM Mahipalsinh Chudasama contested the submission of a petitioner, that no riot or violence was reported from these areas, as being “far from the truth and factually incorrect”. The petition, filed by Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind (JUH), sought directions to quash and declare as illegal the notifications of September 30, 2009, and September 30, 2014, declaring the areas in Vadodara City as disturbed under the Act.
In Vadodara City, many areas were declared “disturbed” through a notification under Section 3 of the Act on September 30, 2009, for a period of five years (until September 30, 2014). It was extended by another notification by the revenue department from October 1, 2014, to September 30, 2019, adding more areas to the list.
The petition stated that the notifications were being issued mechanically without application of mind and/or justification and more particularly for areas where there is Muslim population.
The SDM’s six-page affidavit, which annexed around 70 pages containing a list of communal incidents provided by the police department, said that up to 256 incidents of communal nature were reported across 14 police stations between 2004 and July 2019. Only two in the list were registered under Section 146 (rioting) of IPC. As many as 127 incidents have a charge under Section 147 (punishment for rioting) and 59 have a charge under Section 148 (punishment for rioting with armed weapons). Only two cases have Section 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), the section usually applied in cases communal in nature.
Some of the incidents are related to petty disputes, such as over parking, urinating in public and quarrels over loudspeaker during Muslim wedding ceremony. There are also FIRs related to “Hindu-Muslim love affair or marriage”, sexual harassment during garba and stone-pelting. The incidents appear isolated.
Section 3 of the Disturbed Areas Act 1991, which lays down the mandate for declaration of an area as “disturbed”, states, “Where the state government having regard to the intensity and duration of riot or violence of mob and any such other factors in an area is of the opinion that public order in that area was disturbed for a substantial period by reason of riot or violence of mob…”
The SDM’s citation of Section 3 misses out the part “…was disturbed for a substantial period by reason of riot or violence of mob…” in para 7 of the affidavit.
The petitioner relied on data from NCRB records (last published crime records for 2016), as well as RTI filed in 2016 seeking information on communal incidents registered under IPC Section 146 from JP Road police station. The RTI reply said no such incidents were reported since 2011.
The SDM’s affidavit, however, includes one communal incident between 2004 and 2019 (in 2016), with charges under IPC Sections 143, 147, 148, 149 and others pertaining to attempt to murder, conspiracy and “singing obscene song”.