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Uttar Pradesh

Targeted demolitions: Uttar Pradesh back to bulldozer tactics yet again

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Targeted demolitions: Uttar Pradesh back to bulldozer tactics yet again

The police flag march featuring a bulldozer, in Aligarh on June 20.

The police flag march featuring a bulldozer, in Aligarh on June 20. | Photo Credit: Youtube Screengrab

The Uttar Pradesh government resorts to bulldozer tactics yet again, this time to terrorise Muslims in Aligarh, but the Supreme Court’s timely intervention forces the Hindutva juggernaut to backtrack on the issue.

On June 20, 2022, police in Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh took out a flag march, prominently displaying a new, unconventional addition to its armoury: the bulldozer. The effect was similar to what the recent bulldozer blitzkrieg created in the State. Fear spread across the areas that the flag march passed through; traders shut shop for the day and people hurriedly left from the vicinity.

Soon, this unseemly spectacle became a matter of heated debate. The overwhelming perception was that the bulldozer was there essentially to terrorise unemployed youths who were agitating against the controversial Agnipath military enrolment programme announced by the Central government. The protesters had set ablaze the Jattari police station in Aligarh district and torched several police vehicles, besides disrupting traffic in several places for a number of days.

Even as the debate kicked up a lot of heat and dust, senior officials of the administration and the police, including Aligarh Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kalanidhi Naithani, told mediapersons that they had no idea how the bulldozers became part of the flag march. They claimed that that it was an unplanned happening.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. | Photo Credit: PTI

The argument, apparently, was that some “over-enthusiastic” lower-level policemen had done so on their own. Of course, the public and mediapersons alike were sceptical of this contention and asked the next obvious question: Would lower-level policemen dare do something like this on their own?

Strangely, the reluctance to own up responsibility for the bulldozer spectacle was in stark contrast to the public posturing of officials and the police, and leaders of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, when rampant bulldozer demolitions happened between June 12-15 in different parts of the State. They called the action “retaliatory strikes” for protests by Muslims against certain remarks on Prophet Muhammad by two BJP spokespersons.

Brazen comments

In some instances, the demolitions were accompanied by communal chest-thumping by self-proclaimed “Hindutva warriors” of the Sangh Parivar. Leading the pack was Mrityunjay Kumar, media adviser to Chief Minister Adityanath. Commenting on Twitter in Hindi, he made an unambiguous connection between demolitions and the protests by Muslims, which happened on a Friday following the afternoon prayers.

His tweet read as follows: “Unruly elements remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday.” The tweet was accompanied by a photo of a bulldozer demolishing a building.

Officials too commented similarly. A case in point is the reference made by Prayagraj district Senior Superintendent of Police Ajay Kumar about Javed Mohammad, a leader of the Welfare Party of India (one of the houses demolished belonged to his wife, Parveen Fatima).

Ajay Kumar stated that Javed Mohammad was the mastermind behind the stone-throwing incidents during the protests and claimed that he had given the call for the protests that turned violent in Prayagraj. Javed Mohammad, he added, had been booked under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986; he was later sent to jail and wantonly transferred from one jail to another.

Incidentally, the BJP itself had taken disciplinary action against the party spokespersons for their remarks against Prophet Muhammad; yet, the authorities and the ruling political class in Uttar Pradesh decided that Muslims had no right to protest on this issue.

Many Sangh Parivar functionaries, including Mrityunjay Kumar, proclaimed in public that the larger import of the brutal action was to instill a sense of fear among Muslims and liberals advocating the cause of secularism. The refrain within the Sangh Parivar was that these sections should think twice before they oppose the actions of BJP governments or the Hindutva ideology.

BJP workers celebrating their party’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, atop a bulldozer on March 10.
BJP workers celebrating their party’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, atop a bulldozer on March 10. | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

The brutality of the bulldozer demolitions as well as the communal chest-thumping that accompanied it evoked widespread criticism, including from the Supreme Court and a large section of social and political observers.

Widespread criticism

On June 16, a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices A.S. Bopanna and Vikram Nath, while hearing a writ petition, stressed that demolitions can be carried out only in accordance with the law and not as a retaliatory exercise by the state. They said: “Everything should look fair, we expect the authorities to act only in accordance with law.”

The bench made these statements after media reports pointed out that the demolitions were carried out on a weekend when the courts are shut so that the affected parties could not avail themselves of any legal remedy.

Supreme Court judge Justice A.S. Bopanna.
Supreme Court judge Justice A.S. Bopanna. | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH

The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which filed the petition, had cited several instances of demolition drives carried out by the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments in recent months. The petition alleged that there was an anti-Muslim bias to the demolition drive and requested the court to stop it. Although the court did not accept the plea, it asked the Uttar Pradesh government to explain whether it had followed the provisions of the law while undertaking the drive.

Former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur took the matters raised by the bench a step further and termed the government’s actions as totally illegal. He also said they raised serious questions about the rule of law and added that the current spate of demolitions were not in accordance with the October 15, 2020, order of the Allahabad High Court, which had categorically directed the government and its agencies to wait until the statutory period of appeal ended before acting on demolition orders passed with respect to constructions on private property. In his view, the spate of demolitions in June 2022 did not fulfil the conditions regarding statutory appeal. Clearly, there was a lot of judicially informed opinion against the bulldozer drive.

Doublespeak

The Aligarh flag march happened four days after the observations made by the Supreme Court. What the overall context of the act and its follow-up indicated was that the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and its political machinery, including associate outfits in the Sangh Parivar, had once again fallen back on the time-tested ploy of speaking and acting in multiple voices and expressions in order to cause confusion, even while pursuing their ultimate communal objectives.

Prayagraj authorities demolish the house of Welfare Party of India leader Javed Mohammad’s wife, on June 12. He was accused of instigating riots in protest against BJP spokespersons for their remarks on Prophet Muhammad.
Prayagraj authorities demolish the house of Welfare Party of India leader Javed Mohammad’s wife, on June 12. He was accused of instigating riots in protest against BJP spokespersons for their remarks on Prophet Muhammad. | Photo Credit: PTI

Analyse the multiple dimensions of the Aligarh march. First, the act was done and it did create panic and fear among the public, including the youth agitating against the Agnipath scheme. The communal bravado did continue at the ground level, albeit in terms of informal, localised, word of mouth campaign. But, it is not owned up as an act with official sanction. For all official purposes, the government and its political leadership presented themselves as upholders of the rule of law and principles of governance. The most infamous and devastating manifestation of the Sangh Parivar’s doublespeak happened during the run-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992. On the one hand, the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal were actively preparing for the demolition and training their cadre for it, while on the other leaders such as the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, and the then VHP vice president Swami Chinmayanand were giving assurances to the National Development Council (NDC) and the Supreme Court that the Babri Masjid would not be harmed. In the midst of the confusion, the Babri Masjid was brought down according to plan.

UP government affidavit

On June 22, responding to the Supreme Court’s June 16 directive to explain the legality of the demolition drives at Prayagraj and Kanpur, the Uttar Pradesh government filed an affidavit asserting that the demolitions were carried out “strictly in accordance with the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act” and that they “had no relation to the riots”.

The affidavit went on to list several demolitions in the State and said that each one was carried out by “local development authorities, which are statutory autonomous bodies, independent of the State administration” and that these actions were taken “as per law, as part of their routine effort against unauthorised/illegal constructions”.

The affidavit also accused the the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind of trying “to give a mala fide colour to lawful action taken by the local development authorities, as per procedure established by law, by cherry-picking one-sided media reporting of a few incidents and extrapolating sweeping allegations from the same against the State”. It added that with regard to the two demolitions in Kanpur, the house owners had “admitted” to illegalities in the construction.

Listing specific cases, the affidavit said that in the case of Ishtiaq Ahmed in Kanpur, “a show cause notice” was issued on August 17, 2020, to stop the construction and appear for a hearing on August 28. But neither he nor his representative appeared for the hearing, after which “several notices” were sent and the property was sealed. The seal was broken, following which a first information report (FIR) was filed.

Security personnel and locals gather at the site as a bulldozer is being used to demolish the residence of Javed Mohammed in Prayagraj on June 12.
Security personnel and locals gather at the site as a bulldozer is being used to demolish the residence of Javed Mohammed in Prayagraj on June 12. | Photo Credit: PTI Photo

In the case of Javed Mohammad in Prayagraj, the affidavit said, action for “illegal construction without any sanction at all… (and) unauthorised use of residential land as an office had been initiated prior to incidents of rioting”.

It added: “A nameplate made of marble was installed on the boundary wall of the building on which ‘Javed M’ was written, and above the boundary there was a signboard showing ‘Welfare Party of India’ on which the name of Mr Javed Mohammad, State General Secretary, was written.”

The affidavit went on to state that the Prayagraj Development Authority had received several complaints from residents of the area “in respect of the unauthorised office use in a residential area as well as illegal constructions and encroachments qua the said property”.

It also stated that a show-cause notice was issued on May 10, granting a personal hearing on May 24. “The notice was attempted to be delivered in person at the premises; however, the server informed that though the family members were present at the site, they refused to take the notice.”

The affidavit claimed that the notice was then pasted on the building. “Neither Javed Mohammad nor his representative appeared for the hearing, and he was asked to demolish the unauthorised construction within 15 days, by June 9. It was only after due service and providing adequate opportunity under the Act that the illegal construction was demolished by the Prayagraj Development Authority on June 12, after following due process of law, and the same had no relation to incident of rioting.”

Notwithstanding such assertions, a large number of social, judicial, and political observers are not convinced that the narrative and the sequence of events listed in the affidavit will pass minute judicial scrutiny.

“They have completely misled the apex court. They have not even mentioned that the so-called third notice that the authorities pasted on the wall of the house was not in the name of the house owner, but in the name of one Javed. The credentials of the owner need to be mentioned in the notice, including mobile phone number, but that was not done.”K.K. RoyAdvocate who represents Parveen Fatima, wife of Javed Mohammad

K.K. Roy, an advocate who represents Parveen Fatima, wife of Javed Mohammad of Prayagraj, in the petition she has filed in the Allahabad High Court against the demolition of her house, told Frontline that the government affidavit was a collection of lies and misrepresentation of facts.

He said: “They have completely misled the apex court. They have not even mentioned that the so-called third notice that the authorities pasted on the wall of the house was not in the name of the house owner, but in the name of one Javed. The credentials of the owner need to be mentioned in the notice, including mobile phone number, but that was not done. The so-called sequence of sending earlier notices is also a fraud, because the authorities have not been able to furnish any details of dispatch of the notice, through post or others.:

He added: “The illegality ascribed to the building is also unfounded. The owner of the house, Parveen Fatima, has been regularly paying electricity and water bills as stipulated by the authorities. This clearly proves that the house fulfilled all legal parameters.”

Legal standpoint

Commenting on the broader judicial terms of the bulldozer demolition drive, Mohammad Haidar, a Lucknow-based advocate and social activist, told Frontline that any issue or dispute on properties in Uttar Pradesh needs to be analysed under the purview of the Urban Planning and Development Act 1973, especially Section 27 of the Act. In this connection he made four crucial points.

“This section makes it clear that in a period not less than 15 days and not more than 40 days from the date, a copy of the order of removal has to be given to the person whose property is to demolished or filled up. In Parveen Fatima’s case, the government must check and verify whether the notices were actually dispatched to the owner . The other question is why the she was not put to notice: a proviso to Section 27 mandates that no such order shall be made unless the owner or the person concerned has been given a reasonable opportunity to show cause why the order should not be made.”

Haider also said that another important question was why the the Prayagraj Development Authority did not follow the “general mandamus” issued by the Allahabad High Court in Abbas Ansari And Another vs State of U.P. And 3 Others, dated October 15, 2020. “The Allahabad High Court had issued the general mandamus as it had noticed a large number of cases are being filed before the court complaining of demolitions being carried out even before the expiry of prescribed period for filing of an appeal.”

While issuing the “general mandamus”, the court stated that it was doing so in view of the Supreme Court’s categorical pronouncement in Chairman, Indore Vikas Pradhikaran vs Pure Industrial Coke & Chemicals Limited and Others (2007) that it considered the nature of the town planning statutes vis-a-vis the rights of the citizens to live and was of the considered opinion that a public authority may have general considerations, safety or general welfare in mind, but at the same time the statutory rights of a party cannot be taken away.

The bench also observed that the courts must make an endeavour to strike a balance between public interest and protection of a constitutional right to hold property. This directive was passed on to all sections and departments of the government and it is unlikely that the Uttar Pradesh government was unaware of it.

In conclusion, Haider is of the view that “through the erratic and irrational act of bulldozer demolitions”, the Uttar Pradesh government has deliberately violated the constitutional right of the owners as enshrined under Article 300A of the Constitution.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. Clearly, there are several legal questions that the Adityanath administration needs to answer in the context of the bulldozer demolition drive.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. Clearly, there are several legal questions that the Adityanath administration needs to answer in the context of the bulldozer demolition drive. | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

Clearly, there are several legal questions that the Adityanath administration needs to answer in the context of the bulldozer demolition drive. Of course, it is another matter that one of the major components of the Sangh Parivar’s larger political project is to hound and ghettoise minority communities as a whole, especially Muslims.

Adityanath’s image of being a “bulldozer baba” during the recent Assembly election greatly facilitates this project, which has been gaining in strength as evidenced by the demolition drives of June and previous months. The sordid pattern they follow is simple. All communities may be guilty of violations of municipal and urban planning laws, but the bulldozers are selective in choosing their target.

Indeed, there are times when interventions like those of the Supreme Court have forced the Hindutva combine to backtrack or adopt the doublespeak stratagem, but there is little doubt that the project of terrorising and marginalising minorities will continue apace.