New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) Thursday said that demolitions can only be carried out in accordance with the law, and not as a retaliatory exercise by the state.
It made the observation while issuing notice to the Uttar Pradesh government on petitions challenging bulldozer action at Kanpur and Prayagraj in the aftermath of violence triggered by former BJP spokespersons’ remarks on Prophet Muhammad.
However, the bench 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 court was hearing applications filed by Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind — an organisation of Islamic scholars — seeking directions 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 UP 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 bench orally informed both parties that while it cannot “say no to demolitions”, the same must be done according to procedure.
“Everything should look fair, we expect the authorities to act only in accordance with law,” the court said, while granting the UP government three days to explain whether the recent demolitions were in compliance with procedural and municipal laws.
The bench stressed on authorities following 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 any legal remedy.
In its writ petition, the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind cited other instances of similar demolition drives carried out earlier in UP and Madhya Pradesh where, it alleged, houses of Muslims accused of involvement in some sort of crime, particularly riots, were razed.
It had then sought a blanket order from the court to stop all demolition drives, which the SC had turned down. However, the apex court had issued notices on the petition.
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‘Demolitions didn’t comply with UP Urban Planning Act’
Appearing for the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, senior advocate C.U. Singh submitted since no status quo order was given by the court then, the UP 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 submitted 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.
‘Bring facts on record’
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 SC asked Mehta and Salve not to convert the matter into an 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 bench remarked.
“We have to be conscious of the fact that those people whose houses are demolished may not be able to approach the court,” if further 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 bench 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.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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