New Delhi: Accompanied by hundreds of police personnel, officials of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation demolished shops, temporary structures and the external gate of a mosque in the riot-hit area of Jahangirpuri in northwest Delhi Wednesday — continuing for some time even after the Supreme Court ordered status quo.
The demolition drive — which officials characterised as a “regular exercise” against illegal encroachments, targeting only temporary structures — started around 10 am, and continued until Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat reached the spot and spoke to the officials on ground.
The move came after Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote to North Delhi Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh Tuesday, asking him to identify “illegal encroachments” and constructions by those arrested after communal violence broke out in Jahangirpuri during a Hanuman Jayanti rally Saturday, leaving eight police personnel and a local resident injured.
“Therefore, illegal encroachment done by these rioters should be identified and there should be bulldozers run over it,” Gupta had said in his letter. The BJP controls all three municipal corporations of Delhi.
Soon after, an official of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation wrote a letter to Deputy Commissioner of Police (North West) Usha Rangnani, asking for 400 personnel to provide security for the anti-encroachment drive Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday morning, by the time the Supreme Court issued its status quo order, and said it would hear a petition challenging the demolition drive Thursday, the bulldozers had begun their work. They continued even after the order was issued — when asked why by reporters, mayor Singh said, “We are yet to receive the order.”
‘Officials didn’t give time’
Jahanara, 50, who ran a cycle repair shop near the mosque, told ThePrint that the officials didn’t give her time to remove items from the shop. She said she had come to Delhi from West Bengal, and has been putting up her shop near the mosque “since Indira Gandhi’s time”.
“We asked them to give us time to remove our things, but no one listened,” said Arshu Khan, 36, a native of Uttar Pradesh, who claimed that he has been living and running his repair shop in the locality for nearly two decades.
Raman and Sandhu Jha, who have five children, lost their only source of income as the authorities razed their paan shop.
“In the morning when I opened the paan shop, we saw heavy police presence. We asked them if they would break our shop — if so we would remove the items. They said no, so my husband went home to take a shower. I, too, went home to get some items. But after one hour when we came back, everything was on the ground,” said Sandhu Jha.
Another couple from Bengal, Uktashul and her husband Mustafa, also had their mobile repair shop razed.
Hussain — who claimed to have been born in Jahangirpuri, although his family is from Bengal — also lost his clothes shop, which he said he had been running for nearly two decades.
Rahima and her husband Akbar’s old clothes shop was also razed to the ground. The stairs of her house, where they live with their 3 children, were also demolished.
“We have been living here since I was born. All of Delhi has people like us running shops. Here, they didn’t give us notice, nor did they give us time to take our things,” Rahima said.
“Earlier, we had iron stairs, but MCD people never said anything. Three years ago, we made the stairs. The committee people have visited the area multiple times before, but never said anything before or stopped us. Are we the only ones who have ‘illegal structures’? Is it because they think we are rioters?” she asked.
‘A regular exercise’
The demolitions started Wednesday morning in the Kushal chowk area, razing juice shops, a stationery store, mobile repair and cycle shops, as well the external gate of a mosque.
As this gate was destroyed, people living in the narrow lanes around it started protesting, which led to police storming the gates and dispersing the crowd.
Officials at the spot said nine JCBs (as bulldozers are colloquially called) had been arranged to clear the area of these “illegal encroachments”.
“We have only targeted those who have occupied the government land and other illegal construction,” mayor Raja Iqbal Singh told reporters.
North MCD commissioner Sanjay Goel added: “We have only razed temporary structures that come up overnight, regularly, covering the road. This is a regular exercise.”
He added that the drive would stop only when they saw the court’s order. “We haven’t touched buildings. Our drives are done on an everyday basis,” Goel said.
Naveen Kumar Tyagi, zone chairman, Civil Lines, told ThePrint, “These people do gundagardi (hooliganism) and then also encroach government land.”
Asked about notices not being issued before the demolition, both Tyagi and Goel said that an anti-encroachment drive doesn’t warrant notice being given to the aggrieved party.
Another senior municipal official concurred, saying, “There is no need to issue notice when there is encroachment on government land. MCD can take action against them and remove them. Those broken today are temporary structures, makeshift structures and kiosks.”
Asked about the mosque’s gate, the official said, “The gate is on top of the nalla (drain).”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)