The Madhya Pradesh government on Monday arrested at least 84 people for rioting and razed at least 45 structures—homes and commercial establishments—belonging to people accused of stoking communal flames resulting in violence during the Ram Navami procession that took place the day before.
Responding to allegations of the administration's overreach and bypassing the legal process, MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that relevant sections were invoked to demolish the structures. Critics however suggest that the state's action was "blatant lawlessness" and the demolition was tantamount to "punishment without an investigation, let alone a trial".
On Sunday, violence broke out in the city of Khargone, which is more than 300 km from the state's capital Bhopal, as the Ram Navami procession was crossing a mosque. At least 27 persons were injured in the violence that lasted three hours and the police estimate that at least a dozen houses, vehicles, and shops were burnt.
Even as the Hindus blamed Muslims for the violence, locals alleged that during the procession, objectionable songs were played which sparked an argument that eventually escalated to violence.
Similar clashes broke out during the Ram Navami celebrations in 10 other places across seven states in the country including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
BOOM explains why the structures were demolished and if it was legal.
Why were the structures demolished?
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan—also called 'bulldozer mama' by his fans and supporters— called the Sunday incident "unfortunate" and tweeted: "There is no place for rioters on the soil of Madhya Pradesh. These rioters have been identified; they will not be released. Strictest action will be taken against them."
The state's Home Minister Narottam Mishra warned, "Jis ghar se pathar aaye hain, us ghar ko hi patharon kaa dher banaenge (We will turn the houses from where the stones were pelted to a heap of rubble)."
Sub-divisional magistrate Milind Dhoke told the media that all the structures—belonging to those arrested for the Sunday violence—demolished on Monday were "illegal structures constructed on encroached land". "There were reports of stone pelting from these areas after which action was taken," he added.
District Collector P Anugruha said the demolition was part of the anti-encroachment drive and after following due legal process.
However, Khargone's PRO shared a video of the demolition on Twitter and said that the demolition was punishment meted out to those who allegedly pelted stones during the Sunday procession.
What law did the Madhya Pradesh government invoke to demolish structures?
There is no law that allows for the demolition of a private structure as a punitive action.
"Demolition of property as a punitive action, or as punishment by the government, is illegal under all circumstances. Demolition can only happen in cases of encroachment, and even then, after following due process, such as giving adequate notice, and allowing the affected parties a chance to respond," advocate Gautam Bhatia said.
A private structure may be demolished only after it has been proven that it was built without authorization, has encroached on another person's/government land or fails to comply with regulations. Even then, the state authorities must give the owner of such a property adequate notice allowing him to make alternate arrangements.
Thus, Monday's demolition drive is illegal on several counts.
"We do not follow a policy of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth," senior advocate Siddharth Luthra said referring to the demolition in Madhya Pradesh. "You cannot deprive someone of their property without law," Luthra said.
"Owning a private property may not be a fundamental right, but it is a constitutional right and is recognised as a Human Right," he added.
Advocate Anas Tanwir suggests that demolition is extrajudicial since it was done without a court's order. He added that the state's action reeked of "blatant lawlessness" and the demolition was tantamount to "punishment without an investigation, let alone a trial".