New Delhi- Bulldozers rolled into troubled Jahangirpuri on Wednesday morning and tore down several concrete and temporary structures close to a mosque as part of an anti-encroachment drive by the BJP-ruled civic body, days after the northwest Delhi neighbourhood was rocked by communal violence.
The Supreme Court had to intervene twice to stop the drive after it took cognizance of a petition filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind against the demolition.
The area was teeming with hundreds of policemen, including anti-riot contingents, as the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) launched the operation against enroachers.
In less than two hours, several shops and businesses were pulled down amid scenes of chaos, with many owners insisting their establishments had the sanction of the Delhi Development Authority and the local civic body.
Politics erupted over the demolition drive, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling it "state-sponsored targeting of poor and minorities".
CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat, who visited the area with the court order to stop the NDMC action, was livid. "The Supreme Court ordered status quo at 10:45 am. Our lawyers Kapil Sibal and Dushyant Dave mentioned it before the court. I have come to stop this demolition....to stop the authorities from tearing the Supreme Court order to shreds (dhajjiyan udane se rokne aayi hoon)," she said.
Some distraught women sat on the road, wailing, as bulldozers smashed to the ground several shops and roadside kiosks. Streets were littered with concrete slabs and bricks, but there were no violent protests.
Shop owners, whose establishments were demolished, claimed the NDMC launched the encroachment drive without giving prior notice to them.
"If you (authorities) want to punish, then punish the accused who have been arrested. Why are you punishing the whole community? People have lost their livelihood," Mohammad Rahman, whose shop was razed, said.
Ganesh Gupta, who ran a juice vend, claimed the DDA had allotted the shop in 1977. "I showed them the document but nobody listened to me," he said.
The NDMC's action came a day after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote to the mayor to identify illegal constructions of the "rioters" in Jahangirpuri and demolish them using bulldozers, raising questions about political intention behind the action.
"Shobha Yatra ka badla liya ja raha hai (it's an act of revenge for what had happened during the Shobha Yatra)," said Sajid Saifi whose electrical repair shop was also razed.
According to locals, the anti-encroachment drive continued for an hour and half after the Supreme Court's initial order to stop it and maintain status quo.
A civic body official, requesting anonymity, said the drive continued because of the absence of a written order from the Supreme Court. It was stopped as soon as the order was received, the official added.
Senior lawyer Dushyant Dave approached the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana for a second time after an earlier order failed to stop the civic body from continuing with the demolition.
I am sorry to mention it again...In the morning, I had mentioned the matter. Despite communicating the (stay) order, they (authorities) are not stopping the demolition. They are saying that they have not officially received any communication.
"I request you to ask the secretary-general to communicate the order to the police commissioner and the mayor and the commissioner of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Dave said, adding it will be too late otherwise.
The Supreme Court directed the apex court's Secretary-General to convey the earlier order to stop the demolition immediately.
The bench, in the forenoon, ordered a stay on the drive and agreed to hear the petition challenging the action of the civic body allegedly aimed against the accused in Saturday's communal riots.
Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh insisted the drive was stopped after the Supreme Court order.
"We will follow the Supreme Court orders. We have stopped the drive. We have removed only a few sacks of garbage and dirt along with a few tirpal structures' (temporary structures)," Singh told PTI. He claimed it was a routine action against encroachers and not linked to the April 16 riots.
The action came in the backdrop of demolition drives carried out by the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh's Khargone and Gujarat's Anand districts where bulldozers were used to pull down encroached properties belonging to the alleged rioters.
Malika Bibi, a resident of Jahangirpuri and a shopkeeper, said she had been running a fruit and vegetables shop for 25 years which was razed without any prior notice from the authorities.
"They razed my shop and took away four carts. This was the only source of income for our family of five. I have two kids and both are studying in primary schools. I am worried how their studies will continue. I have lost all hopes for their good future. I am clueless about recovering our losses," she told PTI.
Reacting to the BJP-ruled municipal body's action, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said it was "state-sponsored targeting of poor and minorities".
"This is a demolition of India's constitutional values. This is state-sponsored targeting of poor & minorities. BJP must bulldoze the hatred in their hearts instead," Gandhi said in a tweet.
As the encroachment drive continued despite the Supreme Court directive, Brinda Karat reached the spot armed with the order and urged civic authorities and the police to stop it.
In one of the videos being circulated on social media, Karat was seen standing before a bulldozer, apparently demanding a halt to the demolition drive.
Slamming the saffron party over the anti-encroachment drive, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleged that BJP leaders and officials of BJP-ruled civic bodies have got Rohingyas and Bangladeshis "illegally" settled in Delhi in past 15 years.
"The BJP is saying violence, riots, hooliganism will stop by running bulldozers, removing encroachment. But, actually, the BJP itself is engineering hooliganism violence and riots, not just in Delhi but across the country," AAP leader Aatishi said in a video message.
Reacting to political outrage over the drive, BJP MP from West Delhi Parvesh Sahib Singh, tweeted in Hindi, "Look at the strength of Bangladeshi infiltrators in Delhi. (Advocates) Kapil Sibal, Dushyant Dubey, Prashant Bhushan, Sanjay Hegde all approached the Supreme Court to save the rioters of Jahangirpuri, just as the Supreme Court had been opened at night to stop the hanging of terrorist Yakub Menon."
AAP's Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chaddha accused the BJP of engineering riots across the country.
"If riots are to be stopped, bulldoze the BJP headquarters. I give you a guarantee that if it happens, there will be no riots in the country," he said.
Atishi alleged Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP were behind the recent incidents of communal violence during Hanuman Jayanti and Ram Navami celebrations.
"Bulldozers should be run on the BJP headquarters and the residence of Amit Shah. After that riots will not happen in the country," she said.
Jahangirpuri witnessed rioting during a 'Shobha Yatra' taken out on Hanuman Jayanti on Saturday. Eight police personnel and a civilian were injured in the riots during the armed procession.
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