Supreme Court halts eviction drive in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri

Several kiosks, shops demolished in area that saw communal clash

April 20, 2022 11:24 am | Updated 11:19 pm IST - New Delhi

Shops are demolished during a drive by Municipal Corporation at Jahangirpuri in New Delhi on April 20, 2022.

Shops are demolished during a drive by Municipal Corporation at Jahangirpuri in New Delhi on April 20, 2022. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The Supreme Court intervened twice on Wednesday to pause the advancement of bulldozers in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri for an anti-encroachment drive, but not before several makeshift kiosks and shops lining the area that witnessed a communal clash on Saturday were razed by civic authorities.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana ordered that “status quo, as exists today, shall be maintained until further orders” while halting the “special joint encroachment removal programme” initiated by the BJP-ruled, Union Home Ministry-controlled North Delhi Municipal Corporation in Jahangirpuri.

“Maintain status quo. We will list it tomorrow [on Thursday],” Chief Justice Ramana said briefly in the morning when senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Subhash Chandran, for the residents, sought the court’s immediate intervention against the corporation’s bulldozers.

However, an hour after the court passed the status quo order, Mr. Dave was back before the CJI. This time he informed the court that the demolition was still on. The authorities had not halted the breakage, claiming they had not got the court order.

"It is not stopping despite Your Lordships' order being widely reported in the media... Despite knowing you have intervened, they are continuing saying we have not received the order... This sends a terribly wrong message," Mr. Dave submitted in court.

The CJI promptly ordered the Secretary-General, Supreme Court, and the Judicial Registrar to immediately communicate to the Mayor, the Delhi Police Commissioner, the North Delhi corporation and its Commissioner the status quo order of the morning.

‘Unauthorised, unconstitutional’

Mr. Dave had secured the stay order in the morning by arguing that the demolition was "unauthorised and unconstitutional". The status quo order had come even as the media aired visuals of bulldozers thrashing into property and possessions in Jahangirpuri.

Mr. Dave had reminded the court that this was an area where “riots took place recently”. He said no prior notice of the demolition drive was given. “Law says there should be 15 days’ prior notice and a right to appeal,” the senior lawyer had said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, had joined in, saying such “precipitative action” as in Jahangirpuri was not an isolated one. He said other States were witnessing such incidents.

The Jamiat, in its petition, primarily sought a direction from the court to the Centre and States like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to avoid impetuous steps such as using bulldozers to raze buildings. Destroying the house of a suspect as a means of punishment was foreign to criminal law. The petition referred to how authorities in Madhya Pradesh had employed bulldozers to demolish properties of those accused of rioting during the Ram Navami celebrations.

“Residential accommodations or any commercial property cannot be demolished as a punitive measure,” the Jamiat petition urged.

The plea alleged that several Ministers and legislators made statements about the guilt of a certain section of society, undermining the criminal justice system and the role of courts.

7 bulldozers deployed

In Jahangirpuri, as many as seven bulldozers were deployed by the civic body during the drive that began around 10.15 a.m. on the road opposite Kushal Cinema, situated in the Muslim-dominated C-Block. Officials said eight trucks and four mini tempos were also pressed into service amid heavy police presence and 12 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force in riot gear.

The eviction drive was officially halted more than an hour after the CJI's orders were issued. CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat also arrived at the spot with an electronic copy of the order. In less than two hours, several shops and businesses were demolished, as was the gate of the local Jama Masjid.

‘Bid to ease traffic’

North civic body officials said the drive was an attempt to “clear pedestrian walkways and roads from encroachment” to “ease traffic and pedestrian movement”. “About 2 km of road near Kushal Cinema was cleared from encroachment, 25 items were seized and 20 tonnes of garbage were lifted,” the corporation said in a statement. It added that two anti-encroachment drives were carried out in the area previously in February and April.

Wednesday's action came a day after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote to the Mayor to identify illegal constructions of the "rioters" in Jahangirpuri and demolish them using bulldozers. The North Delhi corporation had subsequently scheduled a two-day drive and asked the Delhi Police to provide at least 400 personnel to maintain law and order.

The Jahangirpuri drive also comes in the backdrop of demolition drives carried out by the State governments in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, and Anand, Gujarat, where bulldozers were used to raze “encroached properties” belonging to those allegedly behind the riots that broke out during Ram Navami processions.

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