The manner in which the a house was demolished in Begum Bagh, a Muslim-dominated locality in Ujjain, a day after a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha rally was pelted with stones in the area, is “absolutely illegal and an act of a police state”, former Supreme Court judge Deepak Gupta told The Indian Express.
“This is a mockery of the rule of law. There is no power to the police to demolish structures like this,” Justice Gupta said.
On December 26, the house of Abdul Rafeeq was razed by the administration who came looking for suspects in the stone-pelting incident caught on video the previous day. Officially, the demolition was carried out as the structure was allegedly illegal. However, District Collector Asheesh Singh said the demolition drive was meant to hurt “criminals who resort to such acts of stone-pelting” economically.
Justice Gupta, who retired from the top court in May last year, said despite valid reasons, the timing of such demolitions would make it illegal. “It is not as if these were the only houses constructed illegally. If the police and politicians take law into their hands and show that they have no faith in the courts, what is a common man supposed to do?”
The strategy of hurting those accused of crimes economically, like in Ujjain, is not a first for Madhya Pradesh.
In November, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and the district administration demolished parts of a school owned by Congress MLA Arif Masood on the outskirts of the city. Just days before the demolition, two FIRs – one for promoting enmity between religions and another for violating Covid norms – were registered against Masood after he led a protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s statements on Islam and terrorism.
While maintaining that law will take its own course, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said that “those who support terrorism will not be spared” while commenting on the demolition of the school.
On December 13, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation demolished a four-storey building in Bhopal belonging to Hukumchandra Chakbandiya, an alleged drug-peddler who is on the run. Although the official reason cited for the demolition was that it was constructed illegally, officials acknowledged that it was part of a drive to curb drug mafia in the state.
“Such demolitions are done to send out a message to the community and terrorise them. There cannot be any justification for this,” said Supreme Court advocate M R Shamshad.
Once a building is demolished, an individual has two legal recourses – a civil remedy seeking damages for police excesses and another is to register an FIR before a magistrate for action against the officials involved. Shamshad said: “If the state administration is openly saying that its reasons for demolition are not in good faith, wouldn’t a common man be scared of going to courts?”
Justice Gupta said, “I hope the Madhya Pradesh High Court will take up this issue suo motu because these incidents are only increasing.”