Haldwani Violence: 5 dead after demolition of ‘illegal’ structures

Demolition was part of wider anti-encroachment drive, violence was “pre-planned, unprovoked, not communal”, says district administration; local residents claim police provoked the clashes

February 09, 2024 10:29 pm | Updated February 10, 2024 08:51 am IST - NEW DELHI

Burnt motorbikes lie on a road a day after clashes during a demolition drive in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani on February 9, 2024.

Burnt motorbikes lie on a road a day after clashes during a demolition drive in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani on February 9, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Five people were killed and 14 critically injured in violent clashes that broke out in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani on February 8 after the demolition of a madrasa and masjid as part of a district anti-encroachment drive.

The district administration has imposed a curfew in the district to ensure law and order is maintained. It has also issued shoot on sight orders, suspended internet services, and asked schools in the area to remain shut until further instructions.

District Magistrate Vandana Singh stressed that the violence should not be termed as “communal”, as it was a “pre-planned and unprovoked act” carried out by anti-social elements. A local religious leader, however, alleged that there was provocation by the police, adding that as the community had gone to court against the anti-encroachment notice, the demolition should not have been carried out.

Also read: Two dead as anti-encroachment drive turns violent in Uttarakhand

The five dead have been identified as Faim Qureshi, Zahid, Mohd Anas, Shabban, and Prakash Kumar.

Confirming the deaths, Nainital’s Senior Superintendent of Police Prahlad Narayan Meena told The Hindu that people with severe injuries have been admitted to the Sushila Tiwari Medical College and other hospitals. He added that several policemen had also been injured in the clash and have been treated.

‘Not registered as religious structure’

The violence broke out in the densely-populated Muslim-dominated area of Banbhoolpura when a team of police and district administration officials arrived at a spot known as ‘Malik Ka Bagicha’ to demolish a structure which local residents say was a madrasa where Muslim children studied, and an adjoining masjid where the community offered namaz, or Muslim prayers. Ms. Singh, however, said that the destroyed structure had not been registered or recognised as a religious structure.

The DM said that local residents — including men, women, and children — assembled at the spot in large numbers to confront the administration’s anti-encroachment team. The police managed to disburse the crowd and the demolition was carried out.

Clashes with police

However, the confrontation reached a boiling point when the crowd started pelting stones at the police after the demolition was almost over. This time, the mob reached the police station and started burning public property and vehicles, officials said.

“Police did not provoke anyone but our police station has been completely damaged by the mob...This is an unfortunate incident. The accused will be identified and strict action will be taken,” Ms. Singh said, claiming that the pre-planned violence was part of an effort to challenge the State machinery and the State government and disrupt the law and order situation. She also alleged that anti-social elements had tried to burn policemen alive and threw petrol bombs on them.

Wider anti-encroachment drive

The DM added that the structure used by the Muslim community was only one of many destroyed during a wider demolition drive. “The civic body is conducting anti-encroachment drives across the district. This is being done to widen roads. In every case, the administration has served notices well before time to those illegally occupying the government land. Some did approach the High Court seeking relief, while many have not done so. The structure which was destroyed on Thursday was one of the latter. So, this was not an isolated activity and was not targeted to a particular asset,” she said.

However, a religious leader from Banbhoolpura who did not wish to be named told The Hindu that the people who owned the madrasa and the masjid had approached the court against the anti-encroachment notice earlier this week and had been granted a date of hearing on February 14. “If the court hasn’t given us the relief, it also hasn’t asked the administration to carry out the demolition. It was subjudice,” he said.

He added that there was video evidence to prove provocation by the police. “Very cleverly they have suspended the internet in the area so that we are not able to send our voices to the world,” he said.

Sumit Hriyadesh, Congress MLA from Haldwani, said that the unfortunate incident could have been avoided if the administration had taken the people of religious communities into confidence before carrying out the anti-encroachment drive.

Payment for property damage

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited the violence-hit area on Friday and met the injured police personnel. “Some people tried to create tension in Uttarakhand. The law will take strict action against this. Video footage of the whole incident is being retrieved, and those who damaged government and public property will be made to pay for it,” Mr. Dhami said.

The same Banbhoolpura area is also home to hundreds of Muslim families living in a two km stretch along the railway track who face an uncertain future after the Railways served eviction notices to them, as their homes were built on its land. After weeks of protest against the eviction, which was ordered by the Uttarakhand High Court, the residents moved the Supreme Court. The matter is now sub-judice.

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