Jaipur: Last week, the Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) — the agency responsible for infrastructural development in the Pink City — took a bulldozer to two properties, one of them a coaching centre.
In a reminder of the Uttar Pradesh government’s current policy, the properties that came under the bulldozer’s ruthless blade belonged to Suresh Dhaka and Bhupendra Saran, the main suspects in the December 2022 teacher recruitment exam paper leak case.
The demolition received wide coverage, with news agencies comparing it with those by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, whose policy of razing down structures has earned him the sobriquet ‘Bulldozer Baba’.
What didn’t make the news, however, was that Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot government has been using bulldozers to demolish “illegal encroachments” and commercial buildings that have come up on government land, including properties belonging to those with criminal charges, since 2019 — a year before Adityanath government’s first demolition.
Senior officials from the JDA told ThePrint that since the Gehlot government came to power in December 2018, it has been using bulldozers to clear government land of encroachments.
In 2019, the JDA had been given strict instructions to “rein in” encroachers, said officials. Since then, the agency has used bulldozers to demolish “illegal” flats and commercial buildings, including those belonging to people accused in criminal cases.
According to data provided by JDA, the authority demolished 18 big buildings in 2019, 20 in 2020, 16 in 2021, and 22 in 2022.
This month alone, the JDA demolished two “illegal” commercial buildings, including a coaching centre run by one of the suspects in the December 2022 paper leak case and “illegal extensions” in a residential property belonging to a second suspect in the same case.
Among the other “illegal” buildings that the agency has demolished are a three-storeyed college building and a school in 2022 belonging to one of the main accused of the September 2021 Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) exam paper leak case and commercial properties of an Indian Revenue Service officer caught by the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau. That property was razed in 2019.
While it may look the same, there’s a difference in the Rajasthan model vis-a-vis the policies followed by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Unlike the other two states, where the use of bulldozers became controversial over the allegation that they were increasingly to “target minority properties”, no such distinction is made in Rajasthan, a senior Rajasthan government official claimed.
“Our mandate is (to) free government land of encroachments. If residential or commercial structures have come up in violation of the Master Plan and without approval from the JDA, we demolish them after following due process,” Raghuveer Saini, JDA’s enforcement wing chief, told ThePrint.
‘Due process followed’
Saini told ThePrint that since 2019, the JDA had managed to free 57 lakh sq.m of government land in Jaipur from encroachers.
Officials said that in January 2022, the JDA took suo motu cognizance for the first time and demolished some “illegal” commercial properties. Among the structures it bulldozed were a three-storeyed college building and a school belonging to Ram Kripal Meena, the main accused in the September 2021 REET exam paper leak case.
The structures had come up illegally on government land in the Jagannath Puri area of the city, claimed JDA officials.
“Kripal had brazenly encroached on 11,394 sq. metre of government land and constructed an illegal college, a school, a dairy, and other commercial structures, in violation of JDA rules. He was sent a show cause notice, but his response was not satisfactory, forcing us to demolish the properties,” Saini added.
But this time around, the demolition, which also included some portions of a residential property, was carried out on the state government’s directions.
Both Dhaka and Saran, the two suspects in the December 2022 REET exam paper leak case whose properties were demolished last week, are currently absconding.
A JDA official told ThePrint that a thorough survey was done by the agency’s technical and engineering team.
After the team marked the encroachments, JDA officials claimed notices were served to the building owner earlier this month and the coaching centre operator, both of whom were given 72 hours to respond.
“One of the accused approached the Appellate Tribunal of the JDA challenging the notice but the tribunal after hearing the matter gave a ruling in our favour,” the official said.
Demolitions under Vasundhara Raje
Demolishing “illegal” structures isn’t a new phenomenon for the JDA. A senior official of the JDA claimed that several structures — including temples — were demolished when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vasundhara Raje became Chief Minister in 2013.
The JDA had razed close to 100 such structures in Jaipur alone for the metro rail project, the official said.
The demolition drive had invited the ire of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). When asked, Raje had defiantly told an upset RSS that temples were demolished “for growth”.
However, officials at the JDA told ThePrint that while demolition drives were done before, now the JDA follows a more concerted approach.
Since 2019, the agency has put into place a “fool-proof mechanism to identify and take action against all such illegal constructions that have come up on government land in violation of the law”, the senior JDA official said.
“We were told not to spare anybody. Today, encroachments on government land have come down drastically and there is fear among the land mafia. Many land dealers are now taking approval from JDA before starting any construction,” the official said.
The land, he said, was encroached upon by a retired Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer in one of the residential colonies in Jaipur.
“The encroachment had been there for close to 30 years but nobody could take action. There was a lot of pressure on us too. But we did not budge and got the encroachments removed,” Saini said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)