The Vadodara city police has written to the city municipal commissioner recommending that one of the gates of Samarpan Housing Service Co-operative Society that opens to Tandalja area — a minority-dominated neighbourhood — be kept closed, to avoid “law and order” issues as “people from the minority community would use the gate for travel and transport, leading to possibilities of skirmishes with the society residents”.
The Samarpan Society located on the Vasna-Tandalja road, falls under the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from premises in Disturbed Areas Act, where all property sale and transfer has to be cleared by the designated government authority.
The society was at the centre of controversy after some residents lodged a criminal complaint against one of its members, Feroz Contractor, for “hiding his religion” when he sold a plot in the society to Firoz Patel.
A resident of the area had moved the Gujarat High Court after the society closed the gate opening to a public road, following which in November 2020, the court directed the Vadodara Municipal Commissioner to respond to the representations of the aggrieved parties, implying the residents.
While the court refused to issue directions to the society to remove the obstruction, the order clearly instructed the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) to respond to the representations.
On Tuesday, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Administration), NA Muniya, in a letter to the Town Development Department of the VMC, recommended to “not open the gates” as Vadodara is “an extremely sensitive city in the state from communal perspective”. This was in response to the VMC seeking an opinion of the police department in the matter in a letter dated December 17.
The Vadodara city police stated that after examining requests from residents, inspector of the jurisdictional JP Road police station, as well as the Assistant Commissioner of Police of D Division and Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone 2, recommended that the gate should not be opened.
The letter states, “The residents of Samarpan Society keep filing complaints of big and small fights now and then… There have been several cases of cross-complaints (between Hindus and Muslims). Considering that opening of the gates would mean that the minority community will begin to use the road for travel and transport, which could lead to petty and big confrontations… it could lead to a law and order crisis in the future. Earlier too, there have been communal incidents in the area…”
It added, “Since Vadodara city is extremely sensitive from the communal perspective in the state, even small skirmishes between communities are a matter of concern and affect law and order… Therefore, police is of the opinion that the gate should not be opened and status quo should be maintained as of now.”
The court of Justice JB Pardiwala, in November 2020, had remarked, “Prima facie it appears, there is a road cleared under the town planning scheme… one section of society is creating obstruction so as to prevent another of society members to prevent the use of the road… has the municipal commissioner applied his mind on this issue and tried to resolve this controversy? Because it appears one set of members who are addressing the grievance, is of the minority community and the people who have created obstruction are of another community…this may lead to some different kind of problems.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, the lawyer representing the residents said that the communication from the police to VMC is in violation of the court’s orders and if need be, an application will be moved before the court as aggrieved residents have not been given an opportunity of hearing by the municipal commissioner.
DCP Muniya said that the letter conveyed the opinion of local police officers. “The police administration department only forwards the replies of the officers concerned. The opinion expressed in the letter is of the local police station and the presiding officers of the division and the zone. It was in response to a letter from the VMC seeking an opinion from the point of view of the law and order,” Muniya said.
A VMC official said, “The VMC has followed the instructions of the High Court in every matter and this is no exception. Our officers are also tired of receiving complaints from residents of both sides. We are aware it is a public road but we all know how Vadodara has suffered due to law and order issues… We consulted with the police department in good faith and we are inclined to follow their recommendation.”
The managing committee of the society had approached the police to block one of the two gates of the society, which, in turn, also blocked the public road under the Town Planning of the VMC. A resident had also approached the Gujarat High Court seeking action against the office-bearers of the society, police inspector of JP Road police station and the VMC for “conniving” to close the gate and depriving citizens of the right to use a public road.
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