On Tuesday, Assistant Town Planner Shail Bala Sharma and her team reached the Narayani guest house in Kasauli around 11.30 am.
Her’s was one of four teams that had moved out from a government guest house in Dharampur to carry out a Supreme Court order to demolish illegal constructions at hotels and guest houses in Kasauli, a hill town in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh.
Three hours later, Shail Bala Sharma was dead — allegedly chased and shot by Narayani guest house owner Vijay Thakur who also injured Gulab Singh, a member of her team.
On Tuesday morning, The Indian Express caught up with Sharma when she showed up at the Narayani guest house. She was carrying papers that had details of the unauthorised structures that were to be demolished.
A member of her team was using a portable public address system, announcing that the guest house and the adjoining Shivalik hotel should be vacated to make way for the demolition squad.
Thakur and Shivalik’s owner Ved Garg stepped out the moment the announcement was made. Quietly but firmly, Sharma told them she was only following court orders. They argued with her over the area that was to be demolished.
“Khali karwa do samaan (remove the goods),” Sharma told Thakur and his mother Narayani after whom the guest house had been named. Thakur said he had a “sanctioned map” of a floor. But she repeated: “We are only abiding by court orders.” Officials and armed policemen stood beside her.
Garg wouldn’t give up. He demanded court orders, saying the court had not defined the boundary of structures to be demolished. “We are not picking any fight, but just interpreting the court order,” he said. Sharma told him to “interpret in court, and not here”. She also told Garg she would speak to him on the premises of the Shivalik hotel.
At 11.40 am, Sharma went inside the Narayani guest house. Thakur kept pleading his case, saying a part of his hotel was “legal” and, therefore, should not be demolished. “I have orders,” she told him, and cited the order of the Supreme, directions from the Town and Country Planning department, the National Green Tribunal and the Solan y Deputy Commissioner. “It will be better if you hang me,” Thakur told her. At this, Sharma said: “These are Supreme Court orders. Don’t take it otherwise.”
Five minutes later, she was out of the building. Thakur continued to argue with her, his hands folded, clutching papers and a bag dangling from his left shoulder. “Aisa hai na, Supreme Court ke order hain mere paas. Mere order nahin hain (This is a Supreme Court order, not mine),” she said. Thakur said: “Ye hai ki hamein maarna hai (That means you have to kill us).”
But she countered: “Why didn’t you go to the Supreme Court with an appeal?” She also asked him why he had not demolished the unauthorised construction within the court-stipulated deadline. “Or, you should have moved court with an appeal. We did not stop you. You are wasting our time,” she told Thakur.
The team again inspected the guest house, this time with Solan SDM Ashutosh Garg and Town Planner Leela Sham. “Agar koyee gustakhi ho gayi ho to maaf kijiye (Forgive me if I have committed any wrong),” Thakur went on. The SDM told him that as per court order whatever was unauthorised had to be demolished.
Emerging from the guest house, the team went to the Shivalik hotel at 12:20 pm. Sharma stopped, placed the papers in her bag and took pictures with her mobile phone as the team inspected the hotel. The public address system was used again to make an announcement outside the Shivalik hotel, asking the management to remove their belongings. It was at this point that Garg ran to the hotel entrance, daring the team to take action. “Hamari laash se force gujregi (Pass over my dead body),” he shouted, adding “Hamein maar dalo (kill us)”.
He later calmed down after the SDM spoke to him. The SDM and Town Planner left to inspect other sites and Sharma stayed at the site as she was part of the demolition drive there. She told this reporter that she was new to the area and did not have minute details of the hotels there.
Around 1.45 pm, Sharma took a lunch break. She and her team headed to Dippy’s, about 500 metres from the Narayani guest house. Shortly after 2.30 pm, she returned to the Narayani guest house. It was then that Thakur allegedly opened fire. Roshan Lal, a PWD beldar who was inside the building then, said: “The first bullet hit Madam on the chest. He then fired another bullet which hit our co-worker Gulab Singh. Madam ran outside, but the owner chased her and shot her again while she was running. She fell down.”