Supreme Court stepped in to stop demolition in Delhi’s violence-hit Jahangirpuri

The demolition drive follows events over the weekend, when police intervened to prevent a communal clash in the area from flaring up into a riot; 25 people have been arrested and two others apprehended over the incident in which several policemen were injured.
An aerial view of a bulldozer demolishing an illegal structure during an anti-encroachment drive by North Delhi Municipal Corporation, in Jahangirpuri, New Delhi, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Amal KS/HT Photo)
An aerial view of a bulldozer demolishing an illegal structure during an anti-encroachment drive by North Delhi Municipal Corporation, in Jahangirpuri, New Delhi, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (Amal KS/HT Photo)
Updated on Apr 21, 2022 05:44 AM IST
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By, New Delhi

Hours after several bulldozers entered Delhi’s violence-hit Jahangirpuri on Tuesday and began tearing down alleged illegal constructions and encroachments in the area, the Supreme Court ordered a status quo on the demolition drive by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation , restraining the authorities from proceeding any further -- although it took at least another 90 minutes for the local body to stop the demolition drive, citing non-receipt of any order from the apex court.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, passed the brief order of status quo (to remain in existing condition) at around 11am following an urgent plea by some lawyers, complaining against what they called an “unconstitutional and unauthorised demolition”.

Also Read | Razed and confused: An account of MCD’s demolition drive in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri

Led by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, the lawyers implored the bench, which also included justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, to interfere immediately in view of the ongoing demolition drive as they stood before the court.

“This is a completely unconstitutional and unauthorised demolition drive, which is taking place in Jahangirpuri where violence took place recently. No notice was given to anyone and nobody was heard. We have moved an urgent plea,” Dave submitted before the bench as he argued for a petition filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. He was supported by senior counsel Kapil Sibal, PV Surendranath and advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Led by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, the lawyers implored the bench to interfere immediately in view of the ongoing demolition drive as they stood before the court. (HT Illustration)
Led by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, the lawyers implored the bench to interfere immediately in view of the ongoing demolition drive as they stood before the court. (HT Illustration)

“Okay, we direct status quo. We will list it tomorrow,” responded the bench.

The demolition drive follows events over the weekend, when police intervened to prevent a communal clash in the area from flaring up into a riot; 25 people have been arrested and two others apprehended over the incident in which several policemen were injured. Hindu groups that took our a procession on account of Hanuman Jayanti said they were pelted with stones from buildings near a mosque. Muslims say men armed with swords and sticks in the procession shouted inflammatory slogans outside the mosque. The police are investigating the incident.

The municipal corporation has sought to separate the incidents, and said the drive was targeted at illegal encroachments. However, it does come against the background of similar drives in other states targeting people allegedly involved in riots -- and without following due process (such as an investigation being complete).

At this point, Sibal pointed out that he is appearing for Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind in another petition, in which employment of bulldozers by several state governments to raze properties of those suspected of involvement in criminal activities has been challenged. “This is regarding the all-India ramification such actions have,” he added.

To this, the CJI replied: “We have already ordered a status quo in this case. We will also take up your case tomorrow.”

Merely an hour after the bench issued the oral order, Dave came back to the court again, complaining about non-compliance with the status quo order by the corporation and police authorities. “Despite the order of this court, they are carrying on with demolition. Please, ask the secretary general of this court to communicate the court order to North Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor and commissioner, and the police commissioner. Once it is widely reported in the media, this is not appropriate. We are a democratic society. This sends a wrong message,” rued Dave.

Accepting his request, the CJI then directed the court registry officials to immediately communicate the court order to all appropriate authorities, including the mayor and the Delhi Police Commissioner.

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has filed two petitions in the top court on the contentious practice of using bulldozers to pull down residential and commercial properties of persons suspected to be involved in criminal incidents such as violence. Recently, such incidents have been reported from BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where structures belonging to some accused were demolished using bulldozers.

The Islamist organisation filed its first petition last week when it said that resorting to such measures without following a due process is against the constitutional ethos and the criminal justice system, as also in violation of the rights of accused persons. It urged the Supreme Court to issue appropriate directions to the Union government and all states that demolition cannot be used as a punitive measure against persons purportedly involved in criminal incidents such as riots.

The second petition by Jamiat raised specifically the issue of anti-encroachment and demolition drive at Jahangirpuri merely four days after a communal violence in the area on the day of Hanuman Jayanti, left eight policemen and one civilian injured.

“The actions of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation are arbitrary and illegal as the people whose houses or establishments will be demolished have not been served any notice by the authorities. The acts of the respondents shall cause irreparable harm to the residents of the area who have been residing there for more than three decades and it is their only source of livelihood,” said the new petition, filed on Tuesday.

Both these petitions will be considered by the top court on Wednesday.

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