Totally illegal, says ex-CJ of Allahabad High Court; bulldozer cases in limbo

The bulldozer brought in by the Uttar Pradesh government in Prayagraj on Sunday to raze the house of Mohammad Javed is part of a familiar playbook: the issue is under substantive challenge in three courts, the Supreme Court, Allahabad High Court and the Madhya Pradesh High Court. And in all three, the cases are in a limbo.

The bulldozing of houses, under the pretext of alleged violations of the state’s municipal and urban planning laws, has been challenged before the courts as a violation of fundamental rights and due process. In many cases, notices are issued but the demolition is timed with a protest and a particular section is targeted giving the subject no time to appeal.

“This is 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,” former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur told The Indian Express Sunday.

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These remarks are significant since it was Mathur who, on March 8, 2020, a Sunday, took suo motu notice of the Lucknow administration’s controversial decision to plaster “name and shame” posters across the city of those accused in the CAA protests. The court held that government’s move was held unlawful and violated the right to privacy of the accused.

On April 21 this year, the Supreme Court issued a stay against demolition in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri area where the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) had launched an “encroachment removal action programme” the day after violence broke out in the area. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai said it would examine whether due process was followed before the drive.

While Justice Rao has since retired, the case is listed for hearing in August.

The same day, the Madhya Pradesh High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation seeking to restrain the government from bulldozing houses of persons accused of crime, holding that “it may not be appropriate to entertain this petition as a PIL.”

However, individuals who have been affected have also moved the HC separately and the cases are yet to be heard.

Among those who have approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court is 22-year-old Asif Khan whose house and three shops were demolished after he was accused of kidnapping a Hindu woman. A single-judge bench of the HC had held that the woman was a major and had in fact eloped with Asif, granting protection to the inter-faith couple.

Following the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2020, the UP government had issued notices to recover damages from protestors and even auction their property. The Allahabad High Court had stepped in to grant an interim stay. This was on December 3, 2020 but none of the cases has been heard in detail since then.

In February this year, the Supreme Court also pulled up the UP government that the action taken against the CAA protestors under a 2011 ruling of the Allahabad HC was not in line with due process and violated the guidelines laid down by the court.

The UP government told the SC that it would withdraw the notices and issue them under a new law enacted in 2020. The new law is also under challenge before the SC and is yet to be heard.

Last month, The Indian Express reported how a house built in Khargone, MP, under the Prime Minister Awaas Yojana was geotagged five times, its last payment hit the bank barely a week before it was demolished days after a communal clash with the occupant saying she got no time to appeal.

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