Shaheen Bagh demolition drive: Opposition calls it BJP-led SDMC's political drama as its term to end soon

The anti-encroachment drive near Shaheen Bagh was halted as local residents gathered around the bulldozers in protest against the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC)’s drive

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin

Ashlin Mathew

The anti-encroachment drive near Shaheen Bagh was halted as local residents gathered around the bulldozers in protest against the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC)’s drive. No buildings or structures were removed using the bulldozers in the locality. The exercise was initiated on the day that the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Communist Party of India (Marxist) plea against the demolition of buildings in Shaheen Bagh.

The bulldozers had reached late at night on Sunday, May 8, 2022, and the drive by south Delhi's BJP-controlled civic body began amidst heavy police presence. Locals, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party supporters gathered around to protest the drive. More than 20 Congress workers, including Arfa Khanum, Hidayatullah, Parvez Alam, Ashu Khan and Mohd Ansar, have been detained at Kalkaji police station.

Last week south MCD had released a schedule that stated that they would be conducting anti-encroachment drives in several places across south Delhi. According to the schedule, the anti-encroachment drive was to be conducted in Shaheen Bagh on May 9. Several calls to south MCD Mayor Mukkesh Surryan went unanswered.

A few scaffoldings and an iron structure were removed by the people. The residents said the structure had been built for the renovation of the building. It would have been removed soon. The locals questioned why there was a huge police contingent and bulldozers if it were a regular anti-encroachment drive. “On the main Shaheen Bagh road, there’s hardly any encroachment. The area is congested, but that doesn’t mean there is encroachment. Even the road behind was constructed by MCD officials, so what are they trying to say?” asked Tahir Hussain, a Shaheen Bagh resident.

The MCD officials had gone to area a few days ago, after which several local residents removed structures. “This drive exposes the intention of the BJP-led MCD and the BJP government. Where were the officials earlier? Why are they publicising this drive now at a time when their term is getting over on May 15,” asked Ali Mehdi, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee vice president.

None of the residents and political parties is against such drives if government land was encroached. Both Congress and AAP leaders stated that they were against encroachment of public property. There are routine anti-encroachment drives conducted all over Delhi without much drama, said South MCD’s leader of opposition and AAP councillor Prem. “Why haven’t they gone after the illegal permanent structures in Delhi. Several BJP leaders would also have encroached on public land,” asserted Prem.

There is a clear intention, reckoned Mehdi, of creating political drama. BJP wants to showcase this drive through TV channels to pander to their voters. They are intentionally targeting a few areas keeping in mind their political aspirations. “If they pick and choose localities, questions will arise,” added Mehdi.

AAP councillor Prem underlined that the officials were indulging in the political drama knowingly. “BJP has been heading the MCD for the last 15 years. Were they sleeping all this while? So, if the encroachment happened, it occurred during their tenure. They want to play-up the Hindu-Muslim angle all the time instead of addressing issues of the local residents. Most of the Delhi residents live on illegal land, so will they conduct drives all over Delhi?” asked Prem. There are more than 77,000 illegal structures in Delhi, according to MCD documents.

The MCD officials should be investigated as no encroachment can happen without the knowledge of the MCD officials. “Instead of targeting people, there should be an enquiry against officials who turned a blind eye. Didn’t the SDMC officials realise earlier about these encroachments or did they remember them only after 15 years and close to the end of their term,” queried Mehdi.

Countering pointed questions by Congress and AAP, BJP leader Adesh Gupta claimed that AAP and Congress leaders were supporting Bangladeshis and Rohingyas. He reportedly said that appeasement politics would not work. Gupta had written to the civic body's mayor last month, demanding removal of encroachment by anti-social elements.

Highlighting the BJP playbook, Mehdi said that the BJP-led south MCD officials want to showcase this as they are taking bulldozers to the area where the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)- National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests took shape. “Why are the bulldozers and anti-encroachment drives happening in middle class and poorer middle class areas? In these areas, people struggle to eke out a living. SDMC should go to areas where the rich live such as Sainik Farms, where even the roads have been encroached. But, they will not as their friends and influential people live there. Why is there no drive on Golf Links road?” asked Mehdi.

Supreme Court hearing on Shaheen Bagh

The Supreme Court dismissed as withdrawn a petition filed by CPI(M) challenging the demolition drive initiated by SDMC in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area. The bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai said that it would not interfere at the behest of a political party.

“Why is CPI(M) filing the case? We can understand if somebody aggrieved is filing the writ petition,” said Justice Rao to Senior Advocate PV Surendranath, who was appearing on behalf of CPI(M). The bench wanted to know why the High Court was not approached first.

“This is not right Mr Surendranath. Filing petitions like this. You spent the whole day here and you could have gone to the High Court instead. This is too much... some party coming us and telling us HC won't hear,” said Justice Rao.

“We are not seized of all encroachment matters. Even in Jahangirpuri matter, we said we can't pass orders against all encroachments. We have to strike a balance,” added Justice Rao.

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