MP demolition drive: Authorities face charges of doing away with due process
Madhya Pradesh revenue minister Govind Singh Rajput said the authorities have been serving notices and acting as per the law
BHOPAL: When Saddam Yousuf Khan, 26, lost his father, his family fell back upon seven shops they owned at Aurangpura in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district. The shops were their only sources of income until they lost them too when they were demolished in the aftermath of the April 10 violence during a Ram Navami procession.
Khan maintained the shops were legally built and they have the papers to prove that. He added the demolition was carried out without prior notice even as they had no role in the violence, which left one person dead and a dozen injured.
“I lost my father and now my source of income,” said Khan, who belongs to a family of ironsmiths. “We have all the papers and are planning to move court. The administration....will be unable to justify the [demolition] in the court.”
Khan’s shops were among 52 shops, houses, and other Muslim establishments demolished on April 11.
Yogendra Singh Mourya, the local tehsildar (revenue department official) who led the demolition drive, said the action was taken under the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code’s Section 248.
The section says any person in possession of unauthorised land may be summarily ejected on the tehsildar’s orders. Its subsection 2-A provides for 15-day imprisonment to a person continuing with the occupation or possession of the land for over seven days after the date of the ejectment order.
The provision has of late been used in Madhya Pradesh to demolish “illegal structures” as part of a crackdown on “mafias and criminals”. It does not provide for eviction or demolition without prior notice and seeks to offer a chance to “illegal” occupants to present their side by appearing before sub-divisional officers, who then decide on demolitions.
Mourya justified the demolitions in Khargone. “This law is used to remove encroachment...in many cases, the notices were served months or years ago and the demolition was pending.” He could not specify when the notices were issued to Khan and his family.
In the neighbouring Barwani district’s Sendhwa, a portion of Shahbaaz Sheikh’s house was demolished without prior notice on April 11 after communal violence during Ram Navmi. Shahbaaz, who was in jail at the time of the violence, was earlier booked as a rioter. “...the demolition was carried out saying we did not have building permission. We sought some time but the administration ignored our pleas,” said Sheikh’s mother, Sakeena.
One Vijay Bhawsar’s shop was demolished in January in Ujjain for allegedly selling Chinese kite strings that ended up slitting a woman’s throat.
Sheikh and Bhawsar’s properties were demolished under the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code and Madhya Pradesh Bhumi Vikas Adhiniyam, which provides for notice of 10 days before demolitions. The rules also have a provision for appeal with a senior officer of the land management authority. Both claimed they were not informed before the demolitions.
Barwani collector Shivraj Singh Verma said the demolition happened as per law and Sheikh’s family was informed in advance.
The Municipalities and Municipal Corporation Act also provides for action against officials for allowing encroachments. Officials said 21,502 acres of government and private land have been freed from encroachment between April 2020 to April 2022 and 12,640 illegally constructed houses, shops, banquet halls, godowns, factories, and other establishments have been demolished.
In Khargone, a municipal officer was suspended and three others were sacked for allowing encroachments, But hardly any action has been taken against civic officials elsewhere for illegal constructions.
Urban development department principal secretary Manish Singh said action is not being taken against municipal officers because it is difficult to prove under whose tenure encroachments happened. “We are strengthening our system to fix the responsibility in case of encroachment and to make deterrence more effective.”
Communist Party of India leader Jaswinder Singh said action should be first taken against the officers responsible for encroachments if chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan is serious about ending them. “The officers first take money to allow encroachments and later in the name of action carry out demolitions. In most demolition cases, houses were built through hard earn money.”
Human rights activist Madhuri, who uses only her first name, accused the government of creating an environment of animosity among people through demolition drives. “If demolitions are challenged in courts, the government will find it difficult to justify demolitions.”
Opposition Congress leader Arun Yadav underlined the need for upholding the rule of law and criticised the government’s autocratic behaviour. “Even, courts give fair chance to criminals to present their side...innocent people are being targeted on the basis of religion...”
State revenue minister Govind Singh Rajput maintained they have been serving notices and acting as per the law. “We are weeding out criminals and land mafias who are harassing the poor. We give short notice to criminals so they cannot move courts. In case of removing encroachments of the poor, we are giving ample time to them to present their side.”