The bench of Justices L N Rao and B R Gavai took serious note of Jamiat counsel Dushyant Dave‘s complaint that the authorities continued with the drive for nearly two hours on Wednesday despite a status quo order from the CJI-led bench. “We will deal with that issue later,” it said and asked north corporation and Delhi Police to file their response affidavits while posting further hearing two weeks later.
Buoyed by the relief in Jahangirpuri area, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, also appearing for Jamiat, requested the court to order a status quo on use of bulldozers against commercial and residential properties of Muslims — who are accused in cases relating to heinous crimes, communal riots or stone-pelting on Hindu processions — in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
Sibal said the SC must send a strong message across the country and the world that the “rule of law” is alive and kicking in India. “This country cannot be governed by the whims of a political party,” he said and requested the court to protect the properties of accused persons, who are innocent till proven guilty in a court of law.
The bench refused and said, “We are not going to stay demolition drive against illegal structures and encroachments across the country.” Sibal pleaded the court to direct the states to at least stop use of bulldozers. The bench said, “Demolition of illegal structures always needed bulldozers.”
Senior advocates — Dave, Sibal and Sanjay Hegde (for Jahangirpuri incident), and P V Surendranath (for Brinda Karat) — repeatedly told the SC that they are not politicising the issue but alleged that the demolition drive was carried out after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote a letter to the north corporation for razing of illegal structures. Surendranath claimed that the demolition drive stopped only after Karat’s intervention.
Solicitor general Mehta, appearing for the north corporation and Delhi Police, said: “This is what happens when an organisation like Jamiat files a PIL to communalise an ongoing drive for removal of encroachments and obstructions on public roads and footpaths. Once the organisation succeeds in communalising a routine drive against encroachments, the entire political spectrum jumps in for mileage.”
“Did no property belonging to Hindus face bulldozers on Wednesday?” asked the bench, even as Mehta said, “It is an ongoing demolition drive since January 19. No one can point a finger that a particular encroachment was removed just because the encroacher belonged to a particular community or participated in the communal riots.”
Mehta said the owner of every illegal structure facing demolition had been issued prior notice. “That is why not a single individual has come before the Supreme Court or approached the Delhi high court. Because they know that they have to establish with documents that their structure is legal. The SC and HC have repeatedly held that removal of encroachments on road and footpaths need no prior notice and the law provides that the kiosks, benches and chairs illegally placed on footpaths and roads are to be confiscated.”
The bench asked, “Was the North DMC removing only chairs and benches from the footpaths? If so, why did they need bulldozers?” Mehta said, “The demolition drive against illegal structures on public land and removal of encroachment of public roads and footpaths is an ongoing exercise that was done strictly in accordance with law. The drive began on January 19 and was carried out on February 2, February 17 and April 11. The fifth phase was scheduled for April 20. So, the allegation that it targeted one community is a blatant lie.”
The SG said similar lies were spread relating to a demolition drive at Khargone in Madhya Pradesh to give it a communal colour. “There were prior notices in 2021, hearings were held in 2021 and orders for clearing encroachments and illegal structures were passed. The government was only carrying out the orders irrespective of the religion of the owner,” he said.
“Out of the 100-odd properties that faced demolition in Khargone, 88 belonged to Hindus and 26 to Muslims. The government does not discriminate between communities. It goes by the rule of law. There is a pattern that one particular organisation will file a PIL in the SC attempting to communalise the issue. Thereafter, the entire political spectrum would join the bandwagon to cry wolf. The petitioners and political parties are attempting to extract political mileage by communalising a routine drive against illegal structures,” Mehta said.
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