The Supreme Court, earlier this week, declined to entertain a plea by the CPI-M against an anti-encroachment drive in Shaheen Bagh carried out by South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC). The top court drew a distinction between the anti-encroachment drive at Jahangirpuri – which was halted until further orders – and at Shaheen Bagh, saying it won’t protect encroachment being removed as per law.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai said a political party has filed this case and it would have examined the matter, if people aggrieved with demolition drive were to come to the court, adding that it cannot pass direction at the behest of a political party.
The same bench is also hearing the petitions against demolition drives carried out at Jahangirpuri and in other parts of the country – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh – where authorities demolished houses of persons allegedly accused in crimes.
The bench rebuked the CPI-M for knocking on its doors without approaching the high court. As counsel for the political party cited the top court’s order of directing status quo on Jahangirpuri demolition drive, the bench clarified that structures were involved in the Jahangirpuri demolition drive, however at Shaheen Bagh – it was hawkers, who sit on a platform, while encroaching on public places.
The top court said: “We have not given license to anybody to come here to say my house cannot be demolished, even if it is unauthorised.”
The municipal authority informed the top court only encroachments were being removed and no houses were being demolished. The top court said: “We are not seized of all encroachments… we need to balance interests… but not when encroachments are being removed.”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that in 2020 and 2021, the Delhi High Court had issued directions to remove encroachments on public roads.
On April 21, the top court extended the status quo order in connection with the demolition drive carried out by North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) at Jahangirpuri, until further orders. However, it refused to grant a blanket ban on demolition of encroachments across the country.
The bench said: “We are not considering encroachments across the country. Merely because we are showing indulgence does not mean you can take shelter under our order.”
Bulldozers razed concrete and temporary structures, including the outer gate of a mosque at Jahangirpuri. The drive by the BJP-ruled civic body was carried out days after the northwest Delhi neighbourhood was rocked by communal violence. The apex court asked those whose properties were allegedly demolished to file affidavits clarifying whether they have received notice.
The Centre had denied allegations that Muslims alone were targeted in the anti-encroachment drive.
The NDMC, in an affidavit in the top court, said freed footpaths and roads at Jahangirpuri have been re-encroached, which is a blatant violation of top court’s status quo order. It accused petitioner Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind of making false communal claims to persuade the Supreme Court to stop the anti-encroachment drive in Jahangirpuri.
The Commissioner of North Delhi Municipal Corporation informed the court that no house or shop was demolished either on April 20 or in any previous demolition drives, and after learning about court order, the demolition drive was stopped at around 12 noon.
The commissioner added that it is a common experience that whenever the law-enforcing agencies exercises their powers of removal of unauthorized projections and other encroachments, the affected parties mislead the authorities by wrongly contending that there is a stay by some competent court.
“It is therefore that unless such a stay order is shown, the drive continues. The officers on site on a working day while supervising the drive would not be looking at the television reports or social media reports.”
Refuting the allegations that houses, shops and a certain portion of a mosque has been demolished, the affidavit added: “It is emphatically submitted no house or shop was demolished at all, either on April 20, or in any of the previous drives. This is blatant falsehood for which the deponent who has affirmed the affidavit… needs to be prosecuted…”