As the demolition continued, CPM leader Brinda Karat rushed to the spot and stood in front of a bulldozer waving a copy of the order
New Delhi: In what is perceived to be an extension of Uttar Pradesh’s “Bulldozer Raj”, a massive demolition and anti-encroachment drive was started in the riot-torn Jahangirpuri area of north Delhi on Wednesday, only to be stopped by the Supreme Court. Bulldozers were seen razing structures near Jahangirpuri’s C Block mosque, where violence erupted on April 16. A wall and a gate of the mosque was razed and some nearby shops were pulled down amidst the rising tension.
By the time the Supreme Court’s order reached the demolition site, the bulldozers, which had started roaring at 9.30 am, had razed several structures. The drive continued for over an hour and a half even after the apex court directed the authorities to maintain the “status quo” in the area. A civic department official said the drive continued as they had not received the written orders from the Supreme Court. He added that the demolitions were stopped as soon as the order was received.
As the demolitions continued even after the apex court’s order, CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat rushed to the spot and stood in front of a bulldozer waving a copy of the order. A tense standoff lasting for about two hours followed, during which dramatic visuals could be seen with the civic body refusing to stop its “anti-encroachment drive”.
Incidentally, the drive was carried out after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta had in a tweet urged the municipal corporation to “take action on the illegal constructions and encroachments of the rioters”. He even hailed the demolition drive. Mr Gupta said: “I congratulate the corporation for taking quick action on it.'”
As the demolition drive got underway in Jahangirpuri, a petitioner, who rushed to the Supreme Court to stop the demolition, called it a disturbing pattern seen in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where communal clashes were followed by demolition drives targeting one community. The petitioner also said that the North Delhi Municipal Corporation had not alerted anyone before carrying out its razing operation.
The Supreme Court ordered the status quo, putting the brakes on the bulldozers deployed for the sudden anti-encroachment drive in Jahangirpuri, which had seen violence between two communities four days ago on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli decided to hear the matter on April 21 as senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, in a mentioning, sought to stop the ”unauthorised and unconstitutional” demolition of the alleged encroachments in Jahangirpuri.
In a brief order, the court said: “We direct the status quo. We will list it tomorrow.”
The court, in its order uploaded later on the apex court website, said: “We direct the Registry to list the matter tomorrow i.e. on 21.04.2022 along with W.P. (Crl) Dy. No. 11955 of 2022 before an appropriate Bench. Status quo, as exists today, shall be maintained, until further orders.”
Along with Mr Dave, senior lawyer Kapil Sibal too sought an urgent hearing of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind plea to stop bulldozers against those Muslims who are allegedly accused in rioting cases in different parts of the country. “The issue has a lot of ramifications and it will be on the entire country,” Mr Sibal told the court. Other senior lawyers Prashant Bhushan and P.V. Surendranath also appeared before the apex court.
Despite the SC order, at 11.32 am, Mr Bhushan tweeted: “Surprising that the authorities are still going ahead with this illegal demolition in violation of the SC stay order, which has been extensively reported in the media. The person in charge will be held guilty of contempt of court.”
Subsequently, Mr Dave again mentioned the Jahangirpuri matter before the CJI’s court, saying that despite the status quo order, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) have not stopped the demolitions. Mr Dave urged the CJI to ask the court’s secretary-general to communicate the order to the NDMC mayor and the Delhi police commissioner. The senior lawyer told the court the media had widely reported the status quo order passed in the morning but the civic body has not stopped the demolition. “It will be too late otherwise,” Mr Dave told the court.
The CJI then directed the registry to communicate its order to the authorities, to ensure that they are implemented immediately.
On its part, the civic body said it would abide by the court order. “We will follow the Supreme Court order. We have stopped the drive. The machinery there now is only lifting the garbage and other items lying on the roads in the area,” said NDMC mayor Raja Iqbal Singh.
Earlier in the day, the NDMC sent nine bulldozers to remove the “illegal encroachments” in Jahangirpuri. In a letter to the police, the NDMC mayor asked for 400 policemen to maintain order in the area, which is still tense in the aftermath of the recent communal violence. More than 1,500 policemen and security personnel were deployed at the site. Along with bulldozers, hundreds of officers in riot gear surrounded some shops and a mosque where the clashes had broken out four days earlier.
When asked, Delhi police officials said the heavy deployment at the site was only to ensure order. “We are here to provide protection and to maintain law and order,” said special commissioner of police (law and order) Dependra Pathak.
Before launching the demolition drive, officials said, the forces carried a flag march. This was done to take stock of the situation. A drone was also deployed to keep an eye on the area.
After the anti-encroachment drive by the BJP-ruled corporation, Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said the BJP was solely responsible for all the unrest in the country. “The easiest way to get rid of this situation is to run a bulldozer over the party’s headquarters,” he added.
Mr Sisodia said the MCD had allowed the illegal structures to flourish in the area in the past 15 years and now, when people have settled down, they were carrying out the demolition drive. “Along with these illegal structures, the houses of those BJP leaders should also be demolished under whose reign these illegal structures flourished in the past 15 years. The people of the country want to discuss education, employment and inflation, but the BJP wants people to talk about violence and hooliganism,” said Mr Sisodia.
Defending the demolition drive, the NDMC mayor said the authorities were only bringing down “illegal buildings that have encroached onto the roads”. Mr Singh said the demolition drive had nothing to do with the earlier violence but some of the (razed) shops belonged to those accused of rioting.