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“Bulldozer Injustice”: Time for courts to actively step in

Demolishing homes of alleged miscreants or gangsters has become the norm in states like UP, MP, Gujarat and Delhi, Uttarakhand, Karnataka seem to be catching up as well. Lack of stringent action by courts has not helped the victims.

Sanchita Kadam 23 Nov 2022

bulldozer
Representation Image

On November 20, the Gauhati High Court reprimanded the Assam Superintendent of Police for bulldozing the homes of five arson accused “under the guise of investigation”. The court took suo moto cognizance [In Re State of Assam and others, PIL (Suo Moto)/3/2022] of the matter, where the home of 5 men accused of setting fire to Batadrava Police Station in Nagaon district were demolished. The bench led by Chief Justice RM Chhaya and comprising Justice Soumitra Saikia questioned how the police demolished the house without permission.

When the State’s counsel submitted that the police had permission from the District magistrate to search the house, the bench pointed out that the permission was to search and not to “bulldoze”.

The Chief Justice said, “He may be SP of any district, even your IG, DIG, whoever may be, the IAS authority, the DG, he has to pass through the gamut of law. Only because they head the police department, they can’t break anybody’s house. Nobody is safe in this country then, if this is permitted. We are not that. Procedure has to be followed”. He continued, “In my limited career here and at the Bar, I have not come across any police officer using a bulldozer by way of a search warrant.”

On a lighter note Justice Chhaya even made a reference to a Hindi movie and said that even in the movie, the hero shows the court’s order before carrying out demolition.

The matter will next be heard on December 13.

This kind of "bulldozer" action is not a new thing and is used to make people feel threatened and scared. It was mainly pioneered by Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh followed by Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi as well. For this, the UP Chief Minister has famously earned the moniker “Bulldozer Baba” and he is hailed across party lines for the same.

In this case the Gauhati High Court took suo moto action however, other high courts have not been so forthcoming, neither has the Supreme Court taken any strong action against such pleas before it.

Delhi

On April 20, an hour after Supreme Court’s order to halt demolitions in Delhi, municipal authorities demolished the entrance gate of a mosque in Jahangirpuri. On April 16, communal violence had erupted after a Bajrang Dal procession on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti was passing by and clashed with the Muslims as it was going past the mosque. In complete media glare, the bulldozer demolished the mosque gate, despite being made aware of the court’s orders.

https://twitter.com/sharmasupriya/status/  

In May, Shaheen Bagh which had become a symbol of a strong women-led protest against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) also faced an “anti-encroachment drive”. When the Communist Party of India (Marxist) approached the apex court in this regard, the court refused to entertain it and questioned why were the affected parties not before it. The court gave liberty to approach the high court instead.

On August 2, the Delhi High Court observed that persons cannot be evicted with a bulldozer at their doorstep “early in the morning or late in the evening” without any notice, rendering them completely shelter less. The plea filed by Shakarpur Slum Union stated that the 3-day demolition drive conducted without any prior notice by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) officials in the area, demolished around 300 of the huts and shanties. Justice Subramonium Prasad disposed of the writ petition with a direction to the DDA to carry out further demolition only in consultation with the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

Uttar Pradesh

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind had filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the state governments of MP and UP on the unlawful use of bulldozers to raze properties on mere suspicion of involvement in crime. In response, the state government filed an affidavit in May, stating that a bulldozer was brought to the house of the accused, Amir and Asif, in Saharanpur’s Chilkana to conduct a raid on March 31, 2021. The petition had stated that police in Saharanpur razed part of the house of the accused, asking them through loudspeakers to surrender within 48 hours, or else their entire house will be demolished. This averment was supported by media reports as well a video of the bulldozing action that was circulated on social media.

“On March 31, 2022, police raided the house of the accused with force. But the staircase door of the house of the accused was shut from inside. The accused’s house is a two-storey house. On the basis of a doubt that the accused persons might be on the upper storey of the house and since the door was closed, a JCB machine (bulldozer) had to be brought for getting help to conduct the raid on the upper storey of the house to arrest the accused,” stated the affidavit. The police justified its action by stating that the bulldozer was necessary to prevent the accused from escaping and that it was justified in view of the heinous crime like gang rape.

In the Tanda police station area of Rampur district, the police demolished a house of a murder accused, following which an inquiry has been ordered.

On June 10, incidents of violence and slogan-shouting were reported in Prayagraj and Saharanpur after the Friday prayers as people were protesting against remarks made by Nupur Sharma berating Prophet Mohammad. On June 13, Prayagraj Development Authority demolished Javed Mohammad’s (Alias Javed Pump) house, who was deemed to be the “mastermind” behind the said violence. "Mastermind Javed Mohd detained, there could be more masterminds...The anti-social elements used minor kids to hurl stones at the police and administration. A case registered under 29 crucial sections. Action will be taken under Gangster Act and the NSA," Prayagraj Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajay Kumar told reporters. 

Last year, UP government announced that it had, over four years, seized and destroyed property worth Rs 1,000 crore belonging to various gangsters, including Mukhtar Ansari. 

Then Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind sought an urgent and comprehensive stay on demolitions as well as related directions to the state of Uttar Pradesh and its police force to refrain from illegal and malafide actions in demolishing homes of alleged accused in Kanpur, Saharanpur and Prayagraj; the court issued notice to the UP government and said, "demolitions have to be in accordance with law and they cannot be retaliatory". 

At the Allahabad High Court as well, a plea was sent to the Chief Justice via email by a body of lawyers, Zilla Adhivakta Manch.

In response to this, some former judges of the Supreme Court as well as high Courts and some senior advocates wrote to the then CJI NV Ramana to take suo moto cognizance of this matter. The letter stated, “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 takes the law into their hands in future.” The letter was signed by former judges of the Supreme Court — Justices B. Sudarshan Reddy, V Gopala Gowda, AK Ganguly; Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and former Chairperson Law Commission of India — Justice AP Shah, former Judge of Madras High Court, Justice K Chandru, former Judge of Karnataka High Court, Justice Mohammed Anwar; senior advocates Shanti Bhushan, Indira Jaising, Chander Uday Singh, Sriram Panchu, Anand Grover and advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Govind Mathur called these demolitions totally illegal. Even if you assume for a moment that the construction was illegal, which by the way is how crores of Indians live, it is impermissible that you demolish a house on a Sunday when the residents are in custody. It is not a technical issue but a question of rule of law,” Mathur told Indian Express.

In July, however, the court refused to pass blanket orders against demolition carried out in UP. The bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and PS Narasimha reportedly observed, “Rule of law has to be followed, no dispute. But can we pass an omnibus order? If under the Municipal law the construction is unauthorized, can an omnibus order be passed to restrain authorities?"

Madhya Pradesh

In December 2020, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister had said he will “will wipe out criminals from Madhya Pradesh and bury them 10 feet under” and months later began the “bulldozer campaign” in the state. As per Newslaundry, in the last 1.5 years, most of the 332 properties demolished so far belong not to “organised criminals” but to ordinary people, most of them poor and Muslim. At least 223 of the razed properties were owned by Muslims, and 92 of them were targeted in April 2022 alone, after Ram Navami processions organised by Hindutva groups led to rioting in Sendhwa and Khargone.

In Khargone alone, bulldozers were used to demolish 16 houses and 29 shops of people who allegedly pelted stones during Ram Navami processions in the area. Most of those arrested are Muslims and the people whose houses have been demolished also almost exclusively belong to the Muslim community, reported The Print

The Hindu quoted the Indore Divisional Commissioner Pawan Sharma as having said that the number of destroyed houses and properties is 45. Times of India reported that 50 properties were destroyed. Sharma reportedly said that the idea was to “instil fear of financial losses among the accused.”

Shivraj Singh Chouhan defended the action by his government, “Shouldn't bulldozers be used against those who trouble the poor…?” 

In September, Bhopal authorities demolished the house of a school bus driver accused of raping a 3-year-old, saying that it was an “illegal construction. In a similar instance, on March 28, illegal portions of a shopping complex of Sanjay Tripathi, accused of raping a 17-year-old girl, were demolished on the orders of the CM, reported DNA.

Gujarat

On April 10, stones were allegedly pelted in Khambat town in Anand District during Ram Navmi procession, in retaliation. The District Collector ordered demolition of “illegal structures standing on government land” many of which belonged to persons accused in the clashes.

On April 21, Surat Municipal Corporation together with police, demolished properties belonging to alleged gangster brothers Aarif and Sajju Kothari.

In Karnataka too, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra last week had indicated that the government was planning to take strict action against those involved in riots, and had promised to take up the matter with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. “We are thinking about it. The chief minister, too, has said there is thinking on those lines. We will have to take strong action against those involved in riots,” Jnanendra said.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami jumping into the bandwagon said, “Wherever encroachment is found, bulldozers will be used. The process of removing illegal occupants is completely legal. Till now, bulldozers have been used in three places — Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar and Haldwani.” 

The term “bulldozer justice” has been coined by the media to refer to these seemingly unlawful and illegal acts of BJP-ruled governments using bulldozers as intimidation tactics while posing it as “anti-encroachment drives”. When you understand the chronology of these instances, it is clear that homes of those person who the government wants to “teach a lesson” have been razed to the ground; be it persons involved in stone pelting or gangsters or in many cases just people made scapegoats and blamed for communal violence. In some instances, the district administration as well as the heads of the States have openly admitted that the homes of persons accused in communal violence have been demolished.

Even as Delhi High Court gave immediate orders to maintain status quo to halt one such demolition, Gauhati High Court became the first such court to take suo moto action in a similar matter. The highhandedness of the administration is clearly visible as their authority overpowers the might of the poor, marginalised and the minorities. No stringent order has come from the Supreme Court either, let alone any suo moto cognizance. The case being made is that this instant form of justice is not approved by the law of the land and all of it looks very cinematic and when juxtaposed with the laws, is preposterous. It is time the courts pull down this veil of legitimate anti-encroachments drives being carried out by these governments and call it what it truly is, a means to misuse and abuse the law for political gains and vendetta.

Related:

Allegations of selective demolitions are false, Due process of law followed: UP gov’t to SC

Repair, compensate, prosecute: Parveen Fatima in petition before Allahabad HC

BJP’s Bulldozer is Breaking the Law: Subhashini Ali former MP, Kanpur

Independence Day: Right-wing ideologues march with bulldozers in New Jersey

Bulldozer Justice: Immediate Punishment or Curtailment of Human Rights

“Bulldozer Injustice”: Time for courts to actively step in

Demolishing homes of alleged miscreants or gangsters has become the norm in states like UP, MP, Gujarat and Delhi, Uttarakhand, Karnataka seem to be catching up as well. Lack of stringent action by courts has not helped the victims.

bulldozer
Representation Image

On November 20, the Gauhati High Court reprimanded the Assam Superintendent of Police for bulldozing the homes of five arson accused “under the guise of investigation”. The court took suo moto cognizance [In Re State of Assam and others, PIL (Suo Moto)/3/2022] of the matter, where the home of 5 men accused of setting fire to Batadrava Police Station in Nagaon district were demolished. The bench led by Chief Justice RM Chhaya and comprising Justice Soumitra Saikia questioned how the police demolished the house without permission.

When the State’s counsel submitted that the police had permission from the District magistrate to search the house, the bench pointed out that the permission was to search and not to “bulldoze”.

The Chief Justice said, “He may be SP of any district, even your IG, DIG, whoever may be, the IAS authority, the DG, he has to pass through the gamut of law. Only because they head the police department, they can’t break anybody’s house. Nobody is safe in this country then, if this is permitted. We are not that. Procedure has to be followed”. He continued, “In my limited career here and at the Bar, I have not come across any police officer using a bulldozer by way of a search warrant.”

On a lighter note Justice Chhaya even made a reference to a Hindi movie and said that even in the movie, the hero shows the court’s order before carrying out demolition.

The matter will next be heard on December 13.

This kind of "bulldozer" action is not a new thing and is used to make people feel threatened and scared. It was mainly pioneered by Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh followed by Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi as well. For this, the UP Chief Minister has famously earned the moniker “Bulldozer Baba” and he is hailed across party lines for the same.

In this case the Gauhati High Court took suo moto action however, other high courts have not been so forthcoming, neither has the Supreme Court taken any strong action against such pleas before it.

Delhi

On April 20, an hour after Supreme Court’s order to halt demolitions in Delhi, municipal authorities demolished the entrance gate of a mosque in Jahangirpuri. On April 16, communal violence had erupted after a Bajrang Dal procession on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti was passing by and clashed with the Muslims as it was going past the mosque. In complete media glare, the bulldozer demolished the mosque gate, despite being made aware of the court’s orders.

https://twitter.com/sharmasupriya/status/  

In May, Shaheen Bagh which had become a symbol of a strong women-led protest against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) also faced an “anti-encroachment drive”. When the Communist Party of India (Marxist) approached the apex court in this regard, the court refused to entertain it and questioned why were the affected parties not before it. The court gave liberty to approach the high court instead.

On August 2, the Delhi High Court observed that persons cannot be evicted with a bulldozer at their doorstep “early in the morning or late in the evening” without any notice, rendering them completely shelter less. The plea filed by Shakarpur Slum Union stated that the 3-day demolition drive conducted without any prior notice by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) officials in the area, demolished around 300 of the huts and shanties. Justice Subramonium Prasad disposed of the writ petition with a direction to the DDA to carry out further demolition only in consultation with the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB).

Uttar Pradesh

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind had filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the state governments of MP and UP on the unlawful use of bulldozers to raze properties on mere suspicion of involvement in crime. In response, the state government filed an affidavit in May, stating that a bulldozer was brought to the house of the accused, Amir and Asif, in Saharanpur’s Chilkana to conduct a raid on March 31, 2021. The petition had stated that police in Saharanpur razed part of the house of the accused, asking them through loudspeakers to surrender within 48 hours, or else their entire house will be demolished. This averment was supported by media reports as well a video of the bulldozing action that was circulated on social media.

“On March 31, 2022, police raided the house of the accused with force. But the staircase door of the house of the accused was shut from inside. The accused’s house is a two-storey house. On the basis of a doubt that the accused persons might be on the upper storey of the house and since the door was closed, a JCB machine (bulldozer) had to be brought for getting help to conduct the raid on the upper storey of the house to arrest the accused,” stated the affidavit. The police justified its action by stating that the bulldozer was necessary to prevent the accused from escaping and that it was justified in view of the heinous crime like gang rape.

In the Tanda police station area of Rampur district, the police demolished a house of a murder accused, following which an inquiry has been ordered.

On June 10, incidents of violence and slogan-shouting were reported in Prayagraj and Saharanpur after the Friday prayers as people were protesting against remarks made by Nupur Sharma berating Prophet Mohammad. On June 13, Prayagraj Development Authority demolished Javed Mohammad’s (Alias Javed Pump) house, who was deemed to be the “mastermind” behind the said violence. "Mastermind Javed Mohd detained, there could be more masterminds...The anti-social elements used minor kids to hurl stones at the police and administration. A case registered under 29 crucial sections. Action will be taken under Gangster Act and the NSA," Prayagraj Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajay Kumar told reporters. 

Last year, UP government announced that it had, over four years, seized and destroyed property worth Rs 1,000 crore belonging to various gangsters, including Mukhtar Ansari. 

Then Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind sought an urgent and comprehensive stay on demolitions as well as related directions to the state of Uttar Pradesh and its police force to refrain from illegal and malafide actions in demolishing homes of alleged accused in Kanpur, Saharanpur and Prayagraj; the court issued notice to the UP government and said, "demolitions have to be in accordance with law and they cannot be retaliatory". 

At the Allahabad High Court as well, a plea was sent to the Chief Justice via email by a body of lawyers, Zilla Adhivakta Manch.

In response to this, some former judges of the Supreme Court as well as high Courts and some senior advocates wrote to the then CJI NV Ramana to take suo moto cognizance of this matter. The letter stated, “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 takes the law into their hands in future.” The letter was signed by former judges of the Supreme Court — Justices B. Sudarshan Reddy, V Gopala Gowda, AK Ganguly; Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and former Chairperson Law Commission of India — Justice AP Shah, former Judge of Madras High Court, Justice K Chandru, former Judge of Karnataka High Court, Justice Mohammed Anwar; senior advocates Shanti Bhushan, Indira Jaising, Chander Uday Singh, Sriram Panchu, Anand Grover and advocate Prashant Bhushan.

Former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Govind Mathur called these demolitions totally illegal. Even if you assume for a moment that the construction was illegal, which by the way is how crores of Indians live, it is impermissible that you demolish a house on a Sunday when the residents are in custody. It is not a technical issue but a question of rule of law,” Mathur told Indian Express.

In July, however, the court refused to pass blanket orders against demolition carried out in UP. The bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and PS Narasimha reportedly observed, “Rule of law has to be followed, no dispute. But can we pass an omnibus order? If under the Municipal law the construction is unauthorized, can an omnibus order be passed to restrain authorities?"

Madhya Pradesh

In December 2020, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister had said he will “will wipe out criminals from Madhya Pradesh and bury them 10 feet under” and months later began the “bulldozer campaign” in the state. As per Newslaundry, in the last 1.5 years, most of the 332 properties demolished so far belong not to “organised criminals” but to ordinary people, most of them poor and Muslim. At least 223 of the razed properties were owned by Muslims, and 92 of them were targeted in April 2022 alone, after Ram Navami processions organised by Hindutva groups led to rioting in Sendhwa and Khargone.

In Khargone alone, bulldozers were used to demolish 16 houses and 29 shops of people who allegedly pelted stones during Ram Navami processions in the area. Most of those arrested are Muslims and the people whose houses have been demolished also almost exclusively belong to the Muslim community, reported The Print

The Hindu quoted the Indore Divisional Commissioner Pawan Sharma as having said that the number of destroyed houses and properties is 45. Times of India reported that 50 properties were destroyed. Sharma reportedly said that the idea was to “instil fear of financial losses among the accused.”

Shivraj Singh Chouhan defended the action by his government, “Shouldn't bulldozers be used against those who trouble the poor…?” 

In September, Bhopal authorities demolished the house of a school bus driver accused of raping a 3-year-old, saying that it was an “illegal construction. In a similar instance, on March 28, illegal portions of a shopping complex of Sanjay Tripathi, accused of raping a 17-year-old girl, were demolished on the orders of the CM, reported DNA.

Gujarat

On April 10, stones were allegedly pelted in Khambat town in Anand District during Ram Navmi procession, in retaliation. The District Collector ordered demolition of “illegal structures standing on government land” many of which belonged to persons accused in the clashes.

On April 21, Surat Municipal Corporation together with police, demolished properties belonging to alleged gangster brothers Aarif and Sajju Kothari.

In Karnataka too, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra last week had indicated that the government was planning to take strict action against those involved in riots, and had promised to take up the matter with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. “We are thinking about it. The chief minister, too, has said there is thinking on those lines. We will have to take strong action against those involved in riots,” Jnanendra said.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami jumping into the bandwagon said, “Wherever encroachment is found, bulldozers will be used. The process of removing illegal occupants is completely legal. Till now, bulldozers have been used in three places — Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar and Haldwani.” 

The term “bulldozer justice” has been coined by the media to refer to these seemingly unlawful and illegal acts of BJP-ruled governments using bulldozers as intimidation tactics while posing it as “anti-encroachment drives”. When you understand the chronology of these instances, it is clear that homes of those person who the government wants to “teach a lesson” have been razed to the ground; be it persons involved in stone pelting or gangsters or in many cases just people made scapegoats and blamed for communal violence. In some instances, the district administration as well as the heads of the States have openly admitted that the homes of persons accused in communal violence have been demolished.

Even as Delhi High Court gave immediate orders to maintain status quo to halt one such demolition, Gauhati High Court became the first such court to take suo moto action in a similar matter. The highhandedness of the administration is clearly visible as their authority overpowers the might of the poor, marginalised and the minorities. No stringent order has come from the Supreme Court either, let alone any suo moto cognizance. The case being made is that this instant form of justice is not approved by the law of the land and all of it looks very cinematic and when juxtaposed with the laws, is preposterous. It is time the courts pull down this veil of legitimate anti-encroachments drives being carried out by these governments and call it what it truly is, a means to misuse and abuse the law for political gains and vendetta.

Related:

Allegations of selective demolitions are false, Due process of law followed: UP gov’t to SC

Repair, compensate, prosecute: Parveen Fatima in petition before Allahabad HC

BJP’s Bulldozer is Breaking the Law: Subhashini Ali former MP, Kanpur

Independence Day: Right-wing ideologues march with bulldozers in New Jersey

Bulldozer Justice: Immediate Punishment or Curtailment of Human Rights

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