India’s Supreme Court has put on hold a demolition drive in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, days after a religious procession sparked communal violence in the area.
The top court said it would take a “serious view” of demolitions continuing on Wednesday despite its orders to pause them.
Only after several top lawyers and activists gathered at the spot with orders in hand did the demolitions stop.
Responding to calls by ruling BJP leaders running the NDMC (North Delhi Municipal Corporation), civic authorities begun carrying out what they called an “anti-encroachment drive” in the area.
Hundreds of armed policemen in riot gear provided a security cordon as seven excavator trucks made their way into the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood. The relatively poor neighbourhood has a large Bengali-speaking Muslim population and is also surrounded by Bengali Hindu homes and small temples.
Local residents lamented the loss of their property and belongings as the demolition went on for over an hour after the court’s order.
Gufran, 42, frantically searched for an old notebook in the pile of rubble outside his home in Jahangirpuri.
“It has records of the money I owed to people. With all goods of my shop being taken away, I don’t even know where it is. If only I could have salvaged it”, the scrap dealer said.
As his family joined him in the search, an excavator truck razed down the exterior of a neighbourhood mosque.
This is the same mosque near which clashes had broken out between two groups on Hanuman Jayanti – a day Hindus celebrate to mark the birth of their god, Hanuman.
More than a dozen Muslims, mostly fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, perched on the mosque’s rooftop and watched the demolition in horror.
Clutching her niece’s hand, Sabina Begum, who has lived behind the mosque for the last 32 years, sobbed silently.
“Our area will never be the same. It’s all the work of outsiders but we will pay a heavy price for their misdeeds,” she said.
Civic officials were carrying details of alleged illegal structures built on public or government property and bringing them down one by one.
Fifty-four-year-old Ganesh Gupta pleaded before officials to give him some time but the excavator machine continued dismantling his fruit juice kiosk.
“This is brazen,” he shouted at the top of his voice. “My father ran this shop and I also have legal papers. Why didn’t they give us a prior notice?” he asked.
The Delhi civic body laws provide for a five-day notice period to be given in person to anyone who encroaches on government property.
The Supreme Court has now ordered petitioners against the demolition to submit affidavits on whether they were served notices before the demolition took place.
The court will resume hearing the matter in two weeks.
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