Demolitions of properties can only be carried out in accordance with the law, and not as a retaliatory exercise by the state, the Supreme Court told the Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh today. The highest court made the observation while issuing notice to the state government on petitions challenging the bulldozer action at Kanpur and Prayagraj on suspected rioters in the aftermath of violence triggered by former BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma’s remark that Mohammed, Islam’s prophet, had married a minor girl and consummated the marriage with her when she was still a child (which is a historical fact accepted also by an authenticated hadith).
However, the Supreme Court declined the applicants’ plea to halt the demolition drive. The procedure must be followed so that a sense prevails among citizens that the rule of law prevails in the country, a vacation bench of justices AS Bopanna and Vikram Nath said.
The apex court was hearing applications filed by Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, an organisation of Islamic clerics, which had sought directions from the court to the state to stop unauthorised demolitions. These fresh applications are part of a writ petition filed by the Jamiat in April when the North Delhi Municipal Corporation had razed alleged encroachment in the riot-hit Jahangirpuri area of the national capital.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government, sought to defend the demolitions, contending that they were carried out in accordance with the law after giving prior notice. He was joined by senior Advocate Harish Salve, who made an online appearance to argue the matter.
Representing the authorities that conducted the demolition drive, Salve denied the petitioners’ allegation that the demolitions violated the rule of law. However, the Supreme Court verbally informed both parties that while it cannot “say no to demolitions”, the same must be done according to the procedure.
“Everything should look fair, we expect the authorities to act only in accordance with the law,” the court said while granting the Uttar Pradesh government three days to explain whether the recent demolitions were in compliance with procedural and municipal laws.
The court stressed that authorities must follow the rule of law, especially in the wake of media reports suggesting that the demolitions were carried out on a weekend when courts are shut so that the affected parties cannot avail of any legal remedy.
In its writ petition, the Islamic organisation had cited other instances of similar demolition drives carried out earlier in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where, it alleged, houses of Muslims suspected of involvement in some sort of crime, particularly riots, were razed. It also sought a blanket order from the court to stop all demolition drives, which the Supreme Court had turned down. However, the apex court had issued notices on the petition.
Appearing for the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, senior advocate CU Singh submitted since no status quo order was given by the court then, the Uttar Pradesh authorities took advantage of the same and proceeded to bulldoze properties of those who were reportedly involved in violent protests that took place in Kanpur and Prayagraj recently.
Singh argued that the demolitions did not comply with Section 27 of the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973, under which a 15-day notice is issued to the person responsible for the unauthorised construction or the owner of the concerned property, to remove the same.
Apart from the 15-day period, the owner or occupant is given another 25 days to challenge the notice in court.
Singh said that the authorities cannot take any action before the 40-day period ends. He argued that the state has justified the spate of demolitions by saying that notices were issued to the residents. However, there are statements of political leaders holding high constitutional office that make it clear that only those who were part of protests were targeted during the demolition drive, he argued. “These houses have been there for the past 20 years, they are pucca houses and one fine day, without giving sufficient time to comply with the procedure, they demolish,” Singh said in court. Moreover, he added, the houses that were demolished were not owned by those who are named in the FIR lodged regarding the violence, or who participated in the protests.
Records of illegal properties and demolitions sought
Both Mehta and Salve rebutted Singh and urged the court to not entertain an organisation’s plea. They insisted that in such matters, only the aggrieved parties should be entertained. However, the Supreme Court asked Mehta and Salve not to convert the matter into adversarial litigation. “This is not a matter of consideration (of) who should be before us. Demolitions cannot take place without notices, we are conscious of that,” the Supreme Court remarked. “We have to be conscious of the fact that those people whose houses are demolished may not be able to approach the court,” it said.
Salve laid out a chronology of events to support his contention that prior notices were issued in the three instances — one from Prayagraj and two from Kanpur — cited by the petitioners. He offered to place the events on an affidavit, which the court permitted. However, the Supreme Court said, “Reply to the application and bring facts on record. Make sure nothing untoward happens in the meanwhile. The issue is before the court, there should be some respect.”