Patna: Patna became the latest Indian city to witness bulldozer action against alleged illegal construction Sunday, when the district administration deployed 17 bulldozers and 2,000 policemen to demolish 75 houses in the city’s Rajiv Nagar area.
The Patna High Court Monday put a stay on demolition work following a petition filed by residents. The case will be heard on 6 July.
But while in states such as UP and Madhya Pradesh, such action has allegedly been taken mostly against properties owned by Muslims, Rajiv Nagar is a predominantly Hindu area that’s a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The area is part of the Digha assembly seat, from where BJP candidate Sanjiv Chaurasia won by an impressive margin of over 47,000 votes in the 2020 assembly election.
Criticising Sunday’s demolition drive, Chaurasia — who was in Hyderabad at the time, to participate in the BJP’s national executive meet — told ThePrint, “The demolition was done on the basis of a wrong decision taken by the circle officer. People were lathi charged and women and children were beaten up. I stand by the residents of Rajiv Nagar.”
While the district administration claimed that the question of property ownership in Rajiv Nagar has been contested for decades, BJP leaders in Bihar linked the timing of Sunday’s demolition to growing differences between the party and its coalition partner, the Janata Dal (United). The BJP-JD(U) coalition is currently in power in Bihar.
ThePrint reached JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan Prasad over the phone, but he refused to comment on the issue.
Speaking to ThePrint, Patna district magistrate (DM) Chandrashekhar Singh said, “There are around 95 houses and walls that have to be demolished. Of these, 75 were demolished Sunday. We have been assured by residents of the remaining 20 houses that they will be vacating their houses by tonight (Sunday night).”
According to Chandrashekhar, three notices had been sent to the residents prior to Sunday’s demolition, the last of which was sent a week ago.
‘No legal documents that prove ownership’
According to the district administration, Rajiv Nagar was formerly agricultural land. In 1974, the Bihar State Housing Board acquired 1,024 acres of land here from farmers, to build offices and houses for government officials.
The farmers were offered compensation of Rs 2,000 per kattha (a unit of land measurement), but this was not paid for many years. The delay pushed the farmers to move the Supreme Court, asking for the rate of compensation to be revised to current land rates. Sources in the district administration admitted that the process of paying compensation has still not been completed.
In between, the land mafia allegedly occupied the land and sold off much of the area to private buyers, claimed the district administration.
The area has about 10,000 houses currently, some of which are owned by politicians and retired government officials. The present land rates there are estimated to be almost Rs 1 crore per kattha.
“In 2010, the government came up with a registration scheme for the dwellers. As far as I know, only nine of the 90 applications received had proper documents. The residents do not have a single legal document that proves their ownership. Most of the transactions were done privately. Having an Aadhaar card and power bill are not land documents,” said DM Singh.
The 400 acres currently being vacated contains about 5,000 houses, according to the district administration. The housing board has allotted the land for construction of offices for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), police radio and others.
On Sunday, bulldozers and police personnel reached Rajiv Nagar’s Nepali Nagar area at five in the morning. Residents offered resistance to the bulldozing, and threw stones at the police personnel. Several policemen, including Patna city superintendent of police Ambrish Rahul, were injured.
The police deployment was later increased to bring the situation under control.
Claiming that many of those whose houses were bulldozed had been living in the area for the past 20 years, Sarita Devi, whose house was also demolished, told ThePrint over the phone, “If our houses were illegal, why did the government give power supply and build roads and drainage systems in the area?”
With an estimated population of around 1 lakh residents according to the local administration, Rajiv Nagar has traditionally been a BJP stronghold.
Having largely voted for the BJP in the last assembly election in 2020, residents were upset with MLA Chaurasia’s absence Sunday.
“We vote for the politicians, but they disappear in our time of need,” said Srinath Singh, one of the residents of the area. “The anger against the BJP is visible.”
While Sunday’s demolition was not the first time the government had tried to vacate the land, previous attempts were always stalled by protests by residents. One such attempt was made last year.
On Sunday, however, the administration managed to demolish 75 houses in the area.
While JD(U) leaders have desisted from commenting on Sunday’s bulldozer action in Rajiv Nagar, a BJP MLA, speaking on condition of anonymity, linked the timing of the demolition to increasing showdowns between the BJP and the JD(U).
Most recently, the two parties exchanged heated words over last month’s against the Modi government’s new Agnipath scheme for recruitment into the armed forces.
“Nitish Kumar (Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader) knows that demolition in Rajiv Nagar will hurt the BJP the most. Yet he went ahead with it,” the BJP MLA added.
This report has been updated with additional information
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)