NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday applied brakes to halt an anti-encroachment drive in riot-torn Jahangirpuri area of the national capital, but not before bulldozers had razed several structures near a mosque.
An excavator was in the process of tearing down the gates of the mosque and several nearby shops when, amid the palpable tension in the area, lawyer Dushyant Dave complained to the Supreme Court that its directives in the matter were being flouted.
Chief Justice NV Ramana, in turn, lost no time in directing that the court order staying the anti-encroachment drive "must be communicated immediately to officials" -- the North Delhi Mayor as well as the Delhi Police Commissioner.
This was in the forenoon at 10.45 AM and the orders were to be communicated through the secretary-general of the apex court; but it was nearly two hours before the civic authorities acted on the apex court directive; in the interim, the demolition drive continued unabated with civic officials present on the spot claiming they had not been conveyed the orders.
The anti-encroachment exercise was ordered after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote to the mayor, asking him to identify illegal constructions of "rioters" and demolish them. While the mayor termed it as a "routine exercise", the timing of the order, especially since it came on the heels of the BJP's chief letter, raised questions regarding political motives.
Observers were also quick to liken the action to similar crackdown in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where, after communal clashes, one community was targeted with demolitions.
Meanwhile, residents said no notice was served on them before the drive. The civic body had on Tuesday sought a force of at least 400 police personnel for the two-day anti-encroachment drive. Interestingly, ahead of the drive, people in Jahangirpuri C Block voluntarily removed their belongings from roadside.
The area had witnessed violent clashes, including stone pelting, arson and firing, between two communities during a Hanuman Jayanti procession on Saturday. Eight police personnel and a local resident had sustained injuries. On Tuesday, five of the rioters were detained under NSA.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind had recently sought a direction from the apex court to the Centre and the states -- where buildings are being razed in criminal proceedings -- that such action be not taken.
This petition was filed in the wake of recent action taken by authorities in Madhya Pradesh, where bulldozers were used to raze properties of those accused of rioting during the Ram Navami celebrations.
The petition said action like razing the house in a criminal proceeding is a punishment unknown in criminal law. "Petitioners have also sought a declaration that residential accommodations or any commercial property cannot be demolished as a punitive measure. We also pray that police personnel be provided specialised training in handling communal riots and situations where populations become restive," the Jamiat petition said.
Opposition leaders, who rushed to the scene of the demolition, said the BJP-led municipal corporation has resorted to the same tactic as was adopted in Khargone town of Madhya Pradesh to destroy buildings of those allegedly involved in violence. This is a show of open defiance of the law and an insult of the judiciary which alone has to act against the culprits.
"The law and the constitution have been bulldozed by illegal demolitions. At least the Supreme Court & its order should not be bulldozed: CPIM leader Brinda Karat in Jahangirpur," said CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat who was on the spot.