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Mainstream, VOL LX No 26-27, New Delhi, June 18 & June 25, 2022 [Double issue]

Urgency to Undo Bulldozer Injustice | Faraz Ahmad

Friday 17 June 2022, by Faraz Ahmad

About a dozen retired judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts along with noted jurists have written to the Chief Justice of India N.V.Ramanna urging the Supreme Court to take Suo Motu cognizance of Uttar Pradesh state government perpetrating violence and repression on a section of its citizens who protested the remarks made against Prophet Mohammad by BJP office bearers.

The signatories to this petition include Justices (retired) B. Sudarshan Reddy, V. Gopala Gowda and A.K. Ganguly; former High court judges A.P. Shah, K.Chandru and Mohammad Anwar as well as noted jurists Shanti Bhushan (former Law Minister of India), Indira Jaisingh, Chander Uday Singh, Sriram Panchu, Anand Grover and Prashant Bhushan.

Referring to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s arbitrary and unlawful diktat to demolish the houses and business establishments of those who the Police claimed were agitating violently against BJP leaders’ utterances on Prophet Mohammad, resulting bulldozing the house of political activist Mohammad Javed, the letter states, “The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities have acted leads to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extra judicial punishment, attributable to a state policy which is illegal.

The reference is clearly to the bulldozer aggression by Allahabad and Kanpur district administration already undertaken against social activist of Allahabad Javed Mohammad and his daughter in Allahabad by demolishing his wife’s house of several decades and a similar threat of UP administration hanging like the Damocles’ sword over such persons in Kanpur. Meanwhile on June 13 the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind also moved the Supreme Court seeking a halt to the “extra-legal” and “precipitative action”.

It sought the apex court’s direction to the Uttar Pradesh government to halt any precipitative action in several UP towns against the residential or commercial property of any accused in any criminal proceedings as an extra-legal punitive measure. The Jamiat petition too described such precipitative demolition as an extra-judicial punitive measure, clearly in violation of the principles of natural justice. Taking up the Jamiat petition on June 16, the two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Vikram Nath while refusing again to stay demolitions per se, asked the UP government to do so only in accordance with the law. They said, "We can’t stay demolitions. We can say go in accordance with the law." The bench issued notices to the UP government and the civic authorities of Prayagraj and Kanpur to respond to the court notice on demolitions before the next hearing on June 21. "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.

Already petitions are pending both in the apex court as well as in UP and MP High courts against the latest trend of the BJP administered bodies in both states to bulldoze the houses, shops or other establishments of those Muslims whom their Police, at the instance of ruling party leaders, had singled out for bulldozer action, like in Jahangirpuri, West Delhi where there erupted some stone throwing over an illegal and unauthorised provocative Hanuman Jayanti procession on April 16 last where the bulldozer of the dissolved South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) moved at the public demand of Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta. It stayed halfway the demolition proceedings in Jahangirpuri responding to the urgent appeal by CPM leader Brinda Karat. But since then the petitions for hearing the plea and undertaking further proceedings is lying in wait with the court registrar. Identical petitions against the arbitrary and illegal actions of UP and MP governments are lying in the MP and Allahabad High Courts as well.

The Supreme Court while staying the Jahangirpuri demolitions had then refused to put an end to such demolitions on similar issues conducted in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh after similar communal clash during the Ram Navmi procession of April 10. Later chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan justified the demolition saying the rioters will not only be sent to jails but also made to pay for vandalising property and elaborated that the action was meant to "instil fear of financial losses among the accused". The MP government’s instant “bulldozer justice” evoked sharp response from the civil society then. But that’s where the matter ended. The apex court refused to order any blanket ban on demolitions across the country.

The Chief Justice of India Justice N V Ramanna has underlined his priority as “fast delivery of justice.” In an interview to a media he said, he focussed mainly on fast delivery of justice to the common man. However he pleaded his helplessness in view of lack of judges in high courts. He said, “Out of 1100 judges in various high courts in the country, if there are about 400 to 500 posts vacant all the time, how can one expect fast delivery of justice?” Doesn’t the vindictive unlawful action of states and municipalities governed by the ruling BJP of bulldozing the houses and establishments of those agitating against the BJP atrocities, need “fast delivery of justice?”

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur was rewarded with a promotion to full fledged cabinet level by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after he raised, in a public meeting on January 27, 2020, the controversial threatening call against the Shaheen Bagh women on dharna demanding scrapping of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) which was perceived as loaded against the Muslim population of the country with Union Home Minister describing them as Termites. Thakur repeated the slogan ‘Desh ke gaddaron’ urging the predominantly saffron cap wearing BJP workers to complete the phrase by resonating with ‘Goli maro salo ko’, not once but at least three times, raising both his hands and asking them to shout loudly enough to be heard in Shaheen Bagh. Immediately thereafter CPM leader Brinda Karat sought to lodge a FIR against him and another Delhi BJP MP Parvesh Verma who indulged in similar hate mongering against Muslims. She sought registration of the FIR against the two on grounds of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race; imputations, assertions, prejudicial to national integration; deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings The Delhi Police under Union Home Minister Amit Shah refused to register the necessary FIR, saying “no cognizable offence was made out” against these hate mongers. She then went to court and the lower court dismissed her petition on the grounds that no FiR can be registered by the Police without sanction of the Government. Naturally expecting such a sanction from Modi government would amount to asking for the Moon. It so happened that in between thanks to such provocations a riot broke out in East Delhi in which while the predominant majority of those killed, injured and their houses and shops destroyed or set on fire were Muslims, the Police behaved in a partisan manner against Muslim youth, forcing Delhi High Court judge S. Muralidhar to order the Police to act against hate mongers, Kapil Sharma, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma without any further delay. Overnight Justice Muralidhar was transferred out to Chandigarh. The constitutional institutions watched this without a whimper.

On June 13, more than two years later Justice Chandra Dhuri Singh of Delhi High Court while rejecting Brinda Karat’s plea observed, “If such investigations are ordered in a routine manner for offences under Section 295-A, 153-A and Section 505, it would lead to a situation where thousands of FIRs would be registered to settle scores against political opponents across the country.”

But then why single out one judge? After all the petition questioning the constitutional validity of this Government scrapping Article 370 and demoting the state of Jammu and Kashmir to a Union Territory is pending since August 2019. The file is gathering dust. Same is the fate of the petition questioning the constitutional validity of the CAA and innumerable such issues.

Young men and women, students with bright academic record, like Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and others are rotting in jails and they are not being granted a bail. But why should they, when a brilliant academician like G.N. Saibaba with both lower limbs polio stricken is languishing in ‘Anda cell’ of jail for his political activism. An equally invalid octogenarian Father Stan Swamy suffering from Parkinson’s disease jailed on trumped up charges framed against the padre fighting peacefully for tribal rights, died in jail, with the courts not heeding to his health condition to grant him bail. Never mind if 20 years later all of them are acquitted for lack of any evidence. After media reports about father Stan Swamy, they finally bailed out another of accused in Bhima Koregaon case another octogenarian Vara Vara Rao but the same court is now pressing him to return to jail, as if he or anyone of them is already convicted.

Look at the way the Bombay High Court facilitated the victory of the BJP in the recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections by refusing to grant momentary bail to the two ministers of the MVA government Anil Deshmukh and Nawab Malik for just going under escort to cast their votes. Are they convicted? The voting for the Rajya Sabha polls, in which only the state legislators are electors was held on June 10. On June 9 the Special Prevention of Money Laundering court rejected the separate pleas of the two NCP MLAs currently interned in jail in Mumbai to be granted limited bail to go to vote under a Police escort. Special Judge R.N. Kokade while rejecting their plea, which the Bombay High Court upheld the next, polling day was that under Section 62(5) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 the prisoners have no right to vote.

But this section is very controversial and critics pointed its basic infirmity insofar as while a person on a bail is entitled to go out and vote another person not yet convicted but only held in jail would not be allowed to vote. Yet the Bombay High Court upheld this order of the trial court, in effect aiding the election of Rajya Sabha candidates of the BJP, indirectly. If for nothing else at least for a fair election, the courts could appreciate the reasons for the accused seeking a temporary bail for casting their votes.

Compare this with a convicted Sahara India chairman Subrata Roy’s case. He was in jail from 2014 to 2016 on account of certain financial irregularities and defiance of court summons. On May 7, 2016 he pleaded with the Supreme Court to grant him a parole to go and perform the last rites of his dead mother. The Supreme Court granted him a 4-week parole. This should have ended latest by 4 June 2016. It’s June 2022 and Subrata Roy is still out strutting around and even defying the Patna High Court’ summons. No one even remembers that he was let out on parole by the Supreme Court.

It’s not that the courts are always slow in reacting to situations. See how overnight bail was granted by the same courts to Arnab Goswami who has serious charges of abetment to suicide against him. Similarly it took no time for the courts to grant bail to Maharashtra MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana arrested for wilfully causing disaffection between communities. The Ranas out on bail expectedly voted the BJP in the recently concluded Rajya Sabha polls.

It was former British Prime Minister William Gladstone who said, ‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’.

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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 said, "Demolitions have to be in accordance with law, they cannot be retaliatory".

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