The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would take a strict view of the demolition drive that took place in North Delhi's Jahangirpuri area even after the Mayor was informed about the status quo and a stay on the same. The status quo and stay will continue, Justice L Nageswara Rao-led bench said.
The bench made the observations after advocate MR Shamshan told the court that he personally emailed and sent a message on WhatsApp to the Mayor at 11:22 am informing him about the stay imposed by the Supreme Court at 10:45 am.
"Do you need bulldozers to demolish stalls, boxes and chairs?", Justice BR Gavai asked the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) after the top court was apprised on the scope of the alleged encroachments. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta— representing the municipal corporation that led the anti-encroachment drive—accepted that bulldozers are usually called in to demolish buildings.
The top court's observations came on a plea that challenged the demolition of homes and commercial establishments as a punitive action against those allegedly facing criminal charges. Yesterday, the matter was mentioned before the bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana who then directed a status quo and a stay on demolitions.
However, the North Delhi Mayor continued with the demolition drive despite court orders.
The Supreme Court issued notice on all pleas challenging the demolition in Jahangirpuri and a plea filed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind seeking a direction to all states from taking "precipitative action" against those accused in any criminal cases while seeking a ban on the demolition of residential and commercial properties as a punitive measure.
Has bulldozer become an instrument of state policy? Plea in SC
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Dushyant Dave expressed their concern over the use of bulldozers as a punitive measure against those allegedly facing criminal charges. The two senior lawyers were representing Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, which filed two petitions following the demolition drives in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh and Jahangirpuri in North Delhi, days after it was affected by violence.
Communal clashes took place in Khargone and nine other places during Ram Navami processions while communal clashes broke out in Jahangirpuri following a procession on Hanuman Jayanti.
"Have bulldozers become an instrument of state policy?" Dave asked. "This is not an issue confined to Jahangirpuri. It is a matter affecting social fabric of our country. If this is allowed, there will be no rule of law left," Dave submitted.
"This case raises far-reaching questions of constitutional and national importance. The demolition drive went on even after the [top court's] status quo order. This affects rule of law. There will be no democracy left," he added.
Dave, who is representing the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind in a plea challenging the demolition in Jahangirpuri, submitted that even if the notices had been issued, there are provisions for appeal, he added.
"How can the NDMC demolish sources of livelihood at the instance of a letter sent by the BJP President Aadesh Gupta," Dave said referring to the BJP leader's letter to the NDMC officials asking them to demolish homes.
Dave pointed out that the Delhi government regularized unauthorized colonies. "There are 731 unauthorised colonies in Delhi with at least 50 lakh people living in them, he said. "And yet, you (NDMC) pick up one colony because you target one community," Dave argued.
"Our homes are more than 30 years old...our shops are beyond 30 years old...we are in a democracy and how can this be allowed?" Dave asked.
The senior advocate then told the Supreme Court that only the poor were being targeted.
"They have demolished homes. Who should be held accountable? These are poor people. If you want to act against unauthorized constructions, you go to Sainik Farms (a tony suburb in Delhi). Go to Golf Links (part of Lutyens in Central Delhi) where every second home is an encroachment. You don't want to touch them, but target the poor people," Dave submitted.
Muslims have been associated with encroachments: Sibal to SC
"Muslims have been associated with encroachments," Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said. Sibal was representing the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind on a plea that sought a ban on demolitions as a punitive measure against those who are allegedly facing criminal charges.
"You cannot link a community with encroachments and demolish their houses," Sibal said.
"No Hindu properties were affected?" Justice L Nageswara Rao asked. To which, Sibal accepted that there were isolated instances where Hindu homes or establishments were also razed. "My plea is that such instances are happening in other states also. When processions are carried out and frictions occur, homes of only one community are being bulldozed...," Sibal said.
"Look at Madhya Pradesh...where the Minister says that if Muslims does such a thing they cannot expect justice. Who decides that? Who gave him that power?" Sibal said referring to state home minister Narottam Mishra's statements in the aftermath of the communal clashes in Khargone.
"I have photos where people from a community were gated (locked behind a gate) and their houses were demolished. What is this process, is it to instill fear or to sideline rule of law?", Sibal added.
Allegations that Muslims targeted factually incorrect: Solicitor General to SC
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said allegations that a certain community was being targeted was factually incorrect. Mehta, who was representing the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), said that as far as Jahangirpuri area was concerned, the drive to remove encroachments from footpaths and roads began in January.
April 19 was the fifth day of the encroachment drive over the past few months, Mehta said. He added as far as this case was concerned, demolition of these type of encroachments did not warrant a prior notice.
As far as Khargone (in Madhya Pradesh) is concerned, 88 of the affected parties are Hindus and 26 were Muslims. Orders were passed for demolition in 2021/2022. Those orders are now being implemented there," Mehta clarified.
Mehta alleged that demolitions took place in accordance with the laws and procedures. However, this was not pointed out when organisations like the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind filed petitions instead of affected parties coming directly to court, the Solicitor General added.