Jurists protest illegal ‘‘bulldozer drive’’, urge Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance
Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, two national spokespersons of the BJP made highly derogatory remarks against Hazarat Muhammad, the founder of Islam. There is no reason to believe that such remarks were off the cusp and not deliberately pondered because the bread and butter of the RSS-BJP-Sangh Parivar has been fomenting of communal division and hatred towards the Muslim community to flaunt their arch communal Hindutva credential. Obviously, the devout Muslims felt injured and could not but give vent to their feelings in the form of street protests. That is exactly what the BJP governments, both at the Centre and in the states were waiting for. Within no time, they proved that of the various forms of punishment, they have reserved a special one: the bulldozer for this minority community. The bulldozer is several notches ahead of earlier forms employed—when the home of an accused gets suddenly demolished, other family members also become the inevitable target of wanton destruction of their home, of their shelter (and that too without due legal notice or at best a backdated one pasted at dead of night). So, in repeat of what was done in Jahangirpura and New Friends’ Colony (Mongolpuri) in Delhi two months back to ‘teach a lesson’ to the protesters against NRC-CAA as well as the then provocative slogans like ‘‘goli maro saleko’’ (kill the scoundrels) raised by the BJP union minister Anurag Thakur and his associates—it all speaks of a well thought out plan. Significantly, Rajpal Singh, Chairman, Central Zone, BJP-run South Delhi Municipal Corporation said: ‘‘There have been more encroachments in Shaheen Bagh area as there are no BJP MLAs and councillors. In the Shaheen Bagh area, around 50 per cent people themselves removed encroachments. The municipal corporation will remove the remaining encroachments.’’ Does not such a comment reflect a blunt partisan outlook? Similarly, it is now Prayagraj, Kanpur, Saharanpur in UP and Khargone in MP where scores are being settled against the members of the minority community who dared to oppose the most objectionable remarks of the BJP mouthpieces. The design is transparent enough. First, create a ground for unrest and discord. Then to muzzle the voice of dissent and in the name of taking punitive measures against the offenders, run a steamroller of suppression giving law a miss.
If there is a true democracy where the law exists to protect people and promote ease of living, bulldozers are not necessary to either uphold rule of law or reinforce the might of the state. Only an insecure government would opt to use brutal force in the name of maintenance of law and order with an iron hand. Exactly that has been happening in UP and MP with bulldozers. Is it a crime to protest against an indecent remark against someone revered? How is it linked with construction of ‘illegal’ buildings? If the protesters’ houses are to be razed to rubble, why should not the buildings owned by the BJP spokesmen and provocateurs be demolished as well? In Prayagraj, before demolishing any house, it is mandatory on the part of the development authority to issue a 15-day notice to the owners so that they have an opportunity to respond. If such explanation is not found satisfactory, a provisional order for demolition can be passed with clear reasons. Then, the house owner gets 30 days to appeal to the chairman of the development authority. Court is also available as a last report to seek remedy. The BJP Chief Minister of UP, who has earned himself the moniker of ‘‘Bulldozer Baba’’, tweeted that bulldozer would continue to be used against criminals and mafias. He has even directed that the National Security Act, 1980 be imposed against guilty people. Unfortunately, may be much to his chagrin, there is no mandate even in the draconian National Security Act to authorize demolition of the house of a rioter, gangster or mafia don. The threat or action of an instant retribution is alien to a civilized society. But the BJP government is able to carry out its ‘bulldozer mission’ with elan because of absence of mighty organized protest as well as the unfortunate silence on the part of the judiciary of the country. The attitude of the courts, it is regretted, is being characterized by a lot of bluster but very little bite. Despite strongly worded condemnation and stay order by the Supreme Court against bulldozer operation in Jahangirpura, little appears to have changed on the ground. It bears recall that in the famous Olga Tellis case in 1985, the Supreme Court had proclaimed that the right to life includes a right not to be evicted without notice. The Court has all the power to stop demolitions, penalize errant bureaucrats, pull up elected leaders if they commit wrong and order compensation to the victims.
The razing of the house of Mohammed Javed, a senior member of the Welfare Party of India, and accused by the BJP government to be one of the main accused behind protest against the pejorative comments of the BJP spokespersons, is a case in point. The house actually belonged to his wife Parveen Fatima who received it as a gift from her father Kaleemuddin Siddiqui over two decades ago. But the notice of demolition was sent to Javed and not his wife. A body of advocates in Prayagaraj have e-mailed a petition to the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court against the demolition of Fatima’s house. Five advocates from an association, Zila Adhivakta Manch, claimed in the petition e-mailed to the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court that the demolished house was given to Fatima by her parents before her marriage, so Ahmad had no ownership over the house and the plot. In order to justify the demolition, the PDA had pasted a notice on the house on 11 June 2022, mentioning about a show-cause notice of a previous date. Neither Ahmad nor his wife had got the show-cause notice, it claimed. Hence, the demolition was against the law, the petition said.
However, the Supreme Court said that demolitions can only be carried out in accordance with the law, and not as a retaliatory exercise by the state. It made the observation while issuing notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on petitions challenging bulldozer action at Kanpur and Prayagraj in the aftermath of violence triggered by former BJP spokespersons’ remarks on Prophet Muhammad. However, the bench declined the applicants’ plea to halt the demolition drive. What is the use if the court awakes only when a demolition is over and such a non-permissible act is challenged thereafter and no stay is given?
Visibly upset, if not displeased, at this sordid state of affairs, a good number of jurists including former judges like Court Justices B Sudarshan Reddy, V Gopala Gowda, and AK Ganguly, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah, former judge of Madras High Court Justice K Chandru, former judge Karnataka High Court Mohammed Anwar and senior advocates Shanti Bhushan, Indira Jaising, CU Singh, Sriram Panchu, Prashant Bhushan, and Anand Grover have written to Chief Justice of India N V Ramana urging him to take suo motu cognizance of alleged incidents of illegal detention, bulldozing of residences, and police action on protestors protesting against certain objectionable remarks made by BJP spokespersons. The letter of petition has been presented as an ‘‘urgent appeal to the Supreme Court of India to take cognizance of the recent incidents of violence and repression by state authorities on citizens of Uttar Pradesh.’’ Accusing the Uttar Pradesh administration of ‘‘making a mockery of the Constitution’’, the petition stated, inter alia, that ‘‘…Instead of giving protestors an opportunity of being heard and engaging in peaceful protests, the UP-state administration appears to have sanctioned taking violent action against such individuals.
The Chief Minister has reportedly officially exhorted officials to take such action against those guilty that it sets an example so that no one commits a crime or take the law into their hands in future…Pursuant to this, the UP police have arrested more than 300 persons and registered FIRs against protesting citizens. Videos of young men in police custody being beaten with lathis, houses of protestors being demolished without notice or any cause of action, and protestors from the minority Muslim community being chased and beaten by police, are circulating on social media, shaking the conscience of the nation …The mettle of the judiciary is tested in such critical times. On many occasions, including in the recent past, the judiciary has faced such challenges and emerged with distinction as the custodian of the rights of the people. Some recent examples are suo motu actions taken by the Supreme Court in the migrant workers’ matter and the Pegasus matter.
… In the same spirit, and its role as custodian of the constitution, we, therefore, urge the Supreme Court to take immediate suo motu action to arrest the deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, specifically involving the high-handedness of the police and state authorities, and the brutal clampdown on the fundamental rights of the citizen. We hope and trust the Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and not let the citizens and the constitution down at this critical juncture’’.
The situation having so grave and alarming, it has not been possible for the democratic minded and right-thinking section of people to ignore their social obligation and it is definitely very encouraging that they are coming out in protest both individually as well as collectively.
(Source; scroll.in-20-04-22, India TV 10-05-22, 14-06-22, Outlook 13-06-22, NDTV-14-06-22, Financial Express 14-06-22, The Print 16-06-22, ABP 17-06-22, Press briefing by Sanjog Mancha on 12-06-22)