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Friday, May 27, 2022

The bulldozer is becoming, in Delhi and beyond, the symbol of a divisive, vindictive politics

Delhi's municipal administration must rethink its approach to allegedly illegal constructions. Else, as in Jahangirpuri, the judiciary must step in.

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 14, 2022 9:35:34 am
The current demolition drive raises questions about due process, and occurs against the backdrop of the Supreme Court's recent intervention. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

There are, in the laws of the land, ways and means to deal with illegal constructions and encroachments in urban areas. But by any measure, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s demolition drive at Madanpur Khadar invites several questions. And coming as it does on the heels of the demolitions at Jahangirpuri last month, in the wake of communal violence and tension, it threatens to erode confidence in the impartiality of the BJP-run Municipal Corporation of Delhi.  The bulldozer — and its perceived targeted use recently by the MCD — as a symbol of governance is threatening. Its being ranged against lower-middle class, working people is cause for deep unease.

First, the current demolition drive raises questions about due process, and occurs against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s recent intervention: Last month, the apex court had asked the MCD to maintain status quo in Jahangirpuri after the latter began demolitions. As residents and police clashed on Thursday — AAP MLA for the area Amanatullah Khan was arrested and 12 others detained — there was little clarity on whether MCD notices had, indeed, reached those whose homes or businesses were being demolished. It is incumbent that people are informed — and have a chance to respond — before they are rendered homeless. Demolition is irreversible and so the bar for it has to be high, the burden of proof on those who order the bulldozer. The letter of the law apart, the insensitivity of the authorities speaks to a politics that lacks empathy. The urban poor live in cramped housing, in urban conglomerations that occupy the liminal space between the legal and illegal. Government and politics to them have become an instrument of fear rather than negotiation and representation. To put the demolition drive in perspective, Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia has said that razing all unauthorised constructions in Delhi will render 70 per cent of the population homeless.

It is difficult not to read into the spate of demolitions a larger, divisive politics. SDMC chairman Rajpal Singh said: “These people (locals) are Rohingyas and Bangladeshis. AAP supports them and obstructed MCD in its duties.” Even AAP has played along until now. Thus far, there is little evidence to show that residents in Madanpur Khadar are illegal migrants. But such statements of dubious veracity appear part of the playbook that was deployed in Jahangirpuri and Khargone, Madhya Pradesh in April. The bulldozer in this context stands for petty vindictiveness of an overpowering state. Delhi’s municipal administration must rethink its approach to allegedly illegal constructions. Else, as in Jahangirpuri, the judiciary must step in.

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