The demolition of houses and buildings linked to protesters in Uttar Pradesh is nothing but retribution and collective punishment targeted at Muslims. The destruction of the residence of Javed Mohammed, Welfare Party of India activist and businessman, in Prayagraj, shortly after he was identified by the police as an alleged conspirator behind the violence during a protest, amply demonstrates this. The fig-leaf of legality attached to the claim that the action by the Prayagraj Development Authority was to clear an illegal building has been blown away by the fact that the notice of demolition was addressed to Mr. Mohammed, and not to his wife, who owns the property. The family’s charge that the notice was served only a day before the demolition and backdated to May 10 cannot be brushed aside. It is well-known that the removal of encroachments or illegal constructions cannot take place without due process, which includes giving the owner or occupier an opportunity to be heard and finding alternative accommodation under any existing rehabilitation scheme. That officials claimed that the notice was served on Mr. Mohammed based on local enquiries shows that they were only following orders to demolish the building and had not bothered to verify the record of ownership before action. Earlier, soon after violence was witnessed in Kanpur, the city’s development authority demolished a commercial building allegedly linked to one of the accused in the case.
The latest demolitions are linked to the protests that took place in the wake of controversial remarks made by the now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on the Prophet. While the Centre has sought to clarify to Islamic countries that it does not brook any disrespect to any religion, U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath wants to send out a message that he will not brook any protests on the issue. It is now a well-established pattern that buildings belonging to those whose names are linked, with or without evidence, to riots or protests are chosen for demolition. For political purposes, it is presented as stringent action against anti-social elements for rioting, and for legal purposes, it is portrayed as removal of illegal constructions. It is unfortunate, and a defining feature of these convoluted times that some States take such pride in demolishing buildings that they want the bulldozer to symbolise their purported resolve in keeping minorities under check. The Supreme Court has ordered that status quo be maintained in respect of the demolitions at Jahangirpuri, in Delhi. Six former Supreme Court and High Court judges and six senior advocates have appealed to the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the demolitions. Whether the Court acts or not, there is little doubt that the demolitions amount to an abuse of power, a challenge to the rule of law and are inherently illegal due to the absence of due process or proportionality.