Ambala: At Kumhar Mandi in Ambala’s cantonment area, a pet German Shepherd keeps barking, tied up metres away from a pile of debris lying where a house once stood. On a cot near the dog is a wailing three-month-old boy, lying next to his aunt.
The woman seems angry, and keeps striking the cot as she mumbles how the police and Ambala civic authorities “illegally” demolished their home of 35 years.
According to the authorities, the demolished property was illegal and belonged to alleged drug peddler Praveen Kumar. It was razed following due process — with the Kumar family having been served three notices in advance — following his arrest by the Ambala police on 11 July.
The demolition is one instance in the ongoing “economic crackdown” on drug peddlers, gangsters and other criminals in Haryana.
There are 14 cases registered against Praveen, three of which, police records show, are drug-related, dating back to 2016 and 2017. Ten were lodged under the Gambling Act while one is a case of trespassing, according to Ambala police spokesperson.
The woman is Praveen’s second wife, who, with their five children and relatives, lived in the house that’s now just a pile of rubble. For now, they are living in a relative’s house nearby.
Two of Praveen’s properties were razed Tuesday by civic authorities after the police wrote to them inquiring about the alleged drug peddler’s property records.
It was found that he had “encroached upon government land and the houses were built using drug and gambling money”. According to Ambala police officers, Praveen also used his house for gambling.
Two other houses and a temple stand on the same stretch of land.
An elderly woman, a neighbour to the Kumars who refused to be named, told ThePrint: “We have been living on this land for five years. We pay house tax and all bills. We didn’t get a notice from the authorities, they (the Kumars) did. Even we might have got a notice in the past, I don’t know, but they (the authorities) wouldn’t raze down our house because, unlike them (the Kumars), we aren’t criminals.”
Her son, who also did not wish to be identified, said: “I am unaware if they gambled here (at home) but they have been peddling drugs for years, so much so that people have shifted out of this neighbourhood for the sake of their children.”
He then pointed towards his teenage son, who had blackened and chapped lips, and droopy eyes. “Praveen kept giving drugs to the boys of the locality, including my son. He would also give them some capsules. His life is destroyed,” the boy’s father said.
Praveen’s wife Karamjeet, however, claimed that her husband only peddled weed, and not “capsules”.
“They planted it on him and then demolished our house of 35 years. It was built by his father three decades ago. They gave notice only a month ago,” she claimed.
Praveen’s other one-room property that was demolished in the same area used to house their pet dog and a cow, said Karamjeet. After the demolition, the cow went missing, she added.
She produced a notice that was served by the Ambala Municipal Corporation on 29 July under the Haryana Municipal Act, 1973, asking the family to remove an encroachment.
According to the family’s lawyer, Hans Kumar Pali, they were first served notice on 29 July, after which they moved court, and the second one was served on 19 September. “The matter is still in court and the next hearing is on 3 November,” she said.
The lawyer also claimed that the neighbouring family had also been served a notice on 29 July.
Rajesh Kumar, secretary in the Ambala municipal council, said Praveen had been served not two, but three notices since his arrest, and there was no stay order from court on the matter.
Asked about the other houses on the same stretch, he said: “Demolitions on encroached land happen from time to time. In this case, the police approached us with details and hence the action was taken.”
Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) PK Agarwal told ThePrint that in the last couple of months, properties of criminals, “worth crores”, have been seized. “We identify the financial assets of criminals and gangsters who deal in narcotics or have been living off proceeds of crime — criminal intimidation and by encroaching government land. Action is then taken either under the Municipal Corporation Act or Public Premises Act, among others.”
This demolition drive has been going on for months. In April, the district administration had razed a godown which was allegedly built illegally on government land by a former independent councillor, Rajesh Kumar, in the Ambala cantonment area.
The ex-councillor and his son were arrested in an attempt to murder case after the family allegedly attacked a police team during a raid in which police personnel suffered injuries.
Rajesh’s wife Guddi also allegedly supplied drugs. According to the police, 260 kg of heroin and more than 1,500 capsules of drugs were seized from the godown.
Both Rajesh and Praveen’s properties were razed under provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
“There is a provision in Section 68-E (identifying illegally acquired property) of the NDPS Act against illegal property acquired by drug smugglers by selling intoxicants. And according to Section 68-F (seizure or freezing of illegally acquired property) of the Act, there is a provision to prepare a proposal against illegal property and sending it to officers of the department concerned for further action,” a senior police officer told ThePrint.
“They (properties of Rajesh and Praveen) were found to be on government land and hence, after due procedure, the buildings were razed,” he added.
Haryana Home Minister and Ambala Cantt MLA Anil Vij, in a statement issued on the latest demolitions, said, “Those peddling drugs should either leave this business or leave the state. Teams have been constituted and properties that have been built using drug money will be bulldozed. There is a long list and this action will continue.”
Earlier this month, properties worth Rs 8 crore including houses, shops and godowns of one Javed, an alleged aide of jailed gangster Manoj Mangaria, was demolished by the Faridabad civic authorities. According to the police, Javed has 11 criminal cases registered against him, including those of murder and extortion.
“Mangaria’s henchman Javed has been involved in criminal activities for nearly 14 years. Javed, armed with illegal weapons and sticks, etc., along with his associates, works to grab land by creating an atmosphere of fear and attacking the people of his neighbourhood,” a Faridabad police spokesperson said.
“He had been earning illegal income by constructing shops on illegally acquired property and collecting rent. These illegal shops were identified by the Faridabad Police,” the spokesperson added.
Identifying financial assets of criminals
Unlike Uttar Pradesh, Haryana does not have the Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, which has provisions for demolition of criminals’ properties.
According to senior police officers in Haryana, demolitions in the state have been carried out by the municipal corporation after following due process of serving notices and providing fair time for the party to get legal remedies.
Ambala Superintendent of Police (SP) Jashandeep Singh Randhawa, told ThePrint: “The properties of criminals with a history of activities such as drug trafficking and others are identified by the police and the authorities concerned are informed, after which they take a call on what needs to be done according to the municipal bylaws and Public Premises Act, etc.”
According to Randhawa, demolition can’t take place on legally-acquired property. “If the land is legal, but has been used for criminal activities, we simply freeze the property and the competent authorities take action according to the law.”
“We have information on criminals using encroached spaces to carry out illegal activities, so we share these details with the authorities so that these areas can be either seized, demolished or evicted of occupants. Earlier, on 16 September, six-seven shops were demolished by the civic authorities and one of the main encroachments on the drain was by a criminal, Bittu, who has over a dozen cases lodged against him,” he added.
Randhawa further said that the police have attached properties of 5-6 drug traffickers. “If it’s a personal asset acquired from the proceeds of crime, it is confiscated and auctioned.”
Under Section 5B of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, the estate officer can order demolition of any unauthorised construction on “public premises”.
According to the law, “public premises” includes premises owned or leased by the central government or by companies largely owned by the central or state governments. Section 17 of the Act also authorises the central government to delegate its powers under the Act to the state government.
However, neither the municipal laws nor the Public Premises Act mention demolition of properties belonging to criminals or accused.
In 2019, the Gurgaon Police had approached court and got permission to auction the property of an absconding “proclaimed offender” (declared so in 2018) — Sube Singh — involved in alleged murders and other offences. The properties were attached under Section 83 of the Criminal Procedure Code (attachment of property of person absconding).
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)