Supreme Court issues notice in petitions against country-wide demolition drives; status quo to be maintained in Jahangirpuri

THE Supreme Court, earlier today, issued notice in a batch of petitions against the demolition drive being carried out by authorities across the country, including the North Delhi Municipal Corporation [NDMC] against alleged encroachers in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri area, even as it said that it was taking a serious view of the Jahangirpuri demolitions yesterday despite the court’s order staying the same being communicated to the concerned authorities. Directing the continuation of status quo in Jahangirpuri, it added that the issue (of disregarding the court’s order) would be dealt with a little later.

As far as the other states are concerned, the court refused to pass any blanket order but told the petitioners that if such an action is taken in other states, their petitions may be mentioned before the court.

A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai was hearing petitions filed by the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, a leading organization of Islamic scholars belonging to the Deobandi school of thought in India, against the demolition of commercial and residential buildings as punitive measures against those accused of being involved in riots.

The bench also directed government authorities to disclose on affidavit whether prior notices were issued to the persons whose homes were demolished or were sought to be demolished.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who was appearing in a petition filed through Advocate-on-Record M.R. Shamshad concerning the demolition drive in the Jahangirpuri area, argued that the NDMC knew that the petitioner would mention the matter before the court at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and that is why the drive began at 9 a.m., even though it was scheduled at 2 p.m. Submitting that no such action was taken in the aftermath of the 1984 Sikhs riots, or the 2002 Gujarat riots, Dave asked why it was being done now. A particular section of society was being targeted, the senior advocate asserted.

Dave contended that under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, no demolition could take place until the person had been given a reasonable opportunity to be heard.

“If you want to remove encroachments, come to Sainik Farms. Come to Golf Links, where I stay; every second home is an encroachment somewhere, but you don’t touch it at all”, Dave said.

Referring to the Bharatiya Janta Party’s Delhi chief’s letter to the NDMC seeking the demolition of houses, he wondered how the authorities could act on such a letter.

“Police and civil authorities are bound by the Constitution and not by letters written by a BJP leader,” Dave argued.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared in another petition concerning the demolition drives in Madhya PradeshGujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Sibal submitted that encroachments were a serious problem all over India but the issue was that only Muslims were being associated with such encroachments. He referred to a statement made by the Madhya Pradesh Home Minister that Muslims should not expect justice if they are encroachers.

“Who decides that? Who gave him that power? Somebody who is in jail, his house was demolished; somebody who is raped, their house was also broken down”, 
Sibal submitted, adding that in Delhi too, the community in certain areas was gated and locked up.
“What do they (government authorities) want? To instill fear or do away with them?” Sibal asked.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge appeared for the owner of a juice shop that was demolished on Wednesday by the NDMC despite the owner claiming to have all the papers pertaining to the shop. The owner has sought adequate compensation from the NDMC.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the NDMC, sought to argue that drive to remove encroachments on the footpath in Jahangirpuri had begun in January this year, and yesterday’s drive was part of one of the phases of such a drive.

“This is what happens when an organisation (Jamiat) comes here suddenly. I will show you instances when notice is not required and illegal structures were given the notice. Traders have moved High Court last year and High Court had itself ordered demolition,” he said.

About the fruit owner shop for whom Hedge appeared, Mehta claimed that prior notice was issued to him. However, it was disputed by Hedge, who said no such notice was issued.

Mehta also took exception to the argument that a certain community was being targeted. He submitted that during a demolition drive held in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, 88 affected parties were Hindus and 26 were Muslims. Mehta read out from the MCD Rules that the NDMC Commissioner may use discretion to remove stalls, chairs, tables etc. without notice. The submission led the bench to query whether the demolition yesterday was of only stalls, chairs, tables etc. “To remove these you need a bulldozer?” Justice Gavai asked.

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