Amid allegations of Uttar Pradesh using bulldozers to target those who protested the controversial comments on Prophet Muhammad by members of the ruling BJP, the Supreme Court today sternly said, “Demolitions have to be in accordance with law, they cannot be retaliatory”.
The UP government and the civic authorities of Prayagraj and Kanpur were asked to respond to a Supreme Court notice on demolitions before the next hearing on Tuesday. “Everything should look fair…we expect the authorities to act only in accordance with law. Ensure safety so that nothing untoward happens,” said the judges.
On petitioners asking the court to order a stop to “illegal demolitions” in UP, the judges said: “We can’t stay demolitions. We can say go in accordance with the law.”
An organisation called the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind had approached the Supreme Court, asking it to act against officials responsible for what they called the “illegal” demolition of houses.
The court should ask the UP government to ensure no demolitions took place in violation of the law, the petitions urged.
Footage of bulldozers demolishing homes of those arrested or identified as protesters in Kanpur, Saharanpur and Prayagraj have spurred allegations that the UP administration is targeting a specific community over the protests against the Prophet comments.
Two persons were killed in jharkhand and hundreds were arrested during the protests over the comments by BJP leader Nupur Sharma, who has since been suspended. Another BJP leader was expelled for his social media post.
The demolitions were “shocking and appalling”, the petitioners told the Supreme Court, alleging that notices were served after houses were razed.
“Adequate notices are must. What is being done is unconstitutional and shocking. It is being done by targeting a community,” CU Singh, lawyer for the petitioners, said.
He said a notice of at least 15 to 40 days was a must before any demolition.
“The respondents (UP government) will get time for their objections. We should ensure their (affected parties) safety in the meantime. Let’s be clear, they’re also a part of society, ultimately, when someone has a grievance, they have a right to have it addressed,” said Justice AS Bopanna.
The UP government asserted that it had followed the law and had only razed homes that were illegally built. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the demolitions had been carried out “irrespective of community”.
“The due course of law is followed for demolitions. The media links the demolitions with political statements unnecessarily,” said senior lawyer Harish Salve on behalf of the UP administration.
The petitioners expressed fear of more demolitions over the weekend and requested the Supreme Court for interim protection. “Petitioners rely on Newspaper reports. We rely on official records,” said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the UP government.
“If the house has been constructed without following any laws at all then they can’t say that they should not even be touched,” Mr Mehta argued, adding that the petitions were based on “misconceptions and politics”.
Justices Bopanna and Vikram Nath took up the case two days after some former judges and senior lawyers wrote to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana urging him to take note of the alleged incidents of illegal detention, razing of homes and police action on those linked to protests over the Prophet comments.
The Supreme Court hearing brought some hope to the family of politician Javed Mohammed, accused by the police of being the mastermind behind violence last Friday in Prayagraj. His bungalow was razed on Sunday.
“The biggest thing is the house did not even belong to him; the whole ownership is with his wife . How did you bring down the wife’s house? The wife and other family members are homeless now,” said his lawyer KK Rai.