HC acting Suo motu on ‘bulldozer justice’ in Nuh is a welcome first step

A high court bench called the Haryana govt to account, and wondered about targeting a specific community or ethnic cleansing "under the guise of law-and-order problem"

Representative image of using bulldozer to raze houses and shops (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image of using bulldozer to raze houses and shops (photo: Getty Images)

NH Political Bureau

The Punjab–Haryana High Court on Monday, 7 August, ordered a temporary stay on the demolitions of 'illegal construction' and 'encroachments' initiated by the state government in Nuh and Gurugram.

Taking suo moto cognizance of newspaper reports, a bench comprising Justice GS Sandhwalia and Justice Harpreet Kaur Jeevan wondered if the state was following due procedure before demolishing residences, shops and shanties in Nuh and Gurugram, and directed the state to respond with further information before Friday, 11 August.

The demolition drive began soon after communal violence broke out in Nuh on July 31. The high court bench has directed the Haryana government to suspend demolitions and submit a full list of the structures demolished.

The demolitions, the bench observed, were apparently being carried out “without any demolition orders and notices, and the law-and-order problem is being used as a ruse to bring down buildings without following the procedure established by law”.

“The issue also arises whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of law-and-order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the state,” the bench added.

The stay order—the first such issued by a high court, even as several states have actively encouraged summary use of ‘bulldozer justice’—has evoked mixed reactions. Some, like academic-turned-activist Yogendra Yadav and constitutional expert Gautam Bhatia, welcomed the stay order.

“A court finally saying that it will no longer reject the evidence of its eyes and ears,” tweeted Bhatia. Yadav said: “Someone can stand up to the rule of a bulldozer. Someone can make you feel that there is a rule of law. You want to thank someone for keeping hope alive.”

Others, however, were not so hopeful. They felt the order was an effort too little and too late, coming only after hundreds of structures have been demolished. “The court waking up after the law has been bulldozed and the deed is done” is small consolation, one citizen said on social media. “It is only meant to satisfy its conscience, justify its existence and relevance to the people. Where is Justice?”

Another asked, “Will anyone be sent to jail for these organised conspiracy by the organs of the state? Or is the bar so low that just hearing a case and making a pretentious interim ‘order’ that punishes no one is still a 'revolutionary' act?”.

Haryana's home minister Anil Vij had promised the ‘bulldozer treatment’ after six people were killed in the violence in Nuh on Monday, 1 August. While the police rounded up Muslim citizens and demolished houses, business establishments and shanties belonging to or used by Muslim individuals, they overlooked the grave provocations and inflammatory videos circulated by the Bajrang Dal.

Police also held back from arresting members of the Bajrang Dal such as Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi, who figure prominently in some of the provocative videos. Although footage has surfaced of Bajrang Dal activists such as Ashok Baba (supposedly a lawyer!) using firearms, no bulldozer has been sent to demolish their houses.

While the communal clash was between miscreants and criminal elements from both communities, it was innocent villagers or their family members who have been made to suffer by the police, it would seem.

The Hindu on Tuesday, 8 August, reported the case of one such innocent person named Anish, who gave shelter to Ravinder Phogat from Hisar and two of his friends, all three of them Hindus, in his own house. The trio were fed and escorted to safety by Anish.

The car in which Phogat and his friends were travelling was then set on fire by a mob. But the trio were profusely thankful to their host for saving their lives and invited Anish to visit their house in Hisar some day. Then on Sunday, Anish called them to say that the police had arrived and were demolishing parts of his house. He had been given no prior notice.

Phogat and his friends called up BJP leaders from Haryana, the police and the SDM to vouch for Anish. They were present with Anish, they pointed out, during the violence and Anish had played no role in the disturbances. But it was too late and the demolition had been carried out.

Can the police get away with carrying out an illegal act is the question being asked. Should they be given the benefit of doubt and can they be said to have acted in good faith? Will the victims be granted any compensation by the court or the government?

We will have to wait until Friday, 11 August, for the next hearing of the Punjab–Haryana High Court for answers.

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