India: Demolition Squad

The rampaging bulldozer is the state thumbing its nose at the court — and the rule of law. It needs a firm check

The Indian Express editorial: The Uttar Pradesh government’s bulldozer drive, targeting the protester and political opponent, and, by joining the dots, a community, is becoming predictable — that should not take away from the fact that it violates due process. That the Yogi Adityanath administration should wrap its actions in self-righteous claims of the tough state moving against “anti-social” elements, and that UP officials and politicians should boast about “Saturdays” following “Fridays”, and “return gifts” to the riot-accused, marks a new level of brutalization in public discourse. The latest episode — the razing on Sunday, with barely a day’s notice, of the house of political activist and businessman Mohammad Javed, accused of conspiracy in the June 10 violence after the Friday protests against Nupur Sharma’s remarks on the Prophet in Prayagraj — comes a day after the bulldozer demolished “illegal construction” in the residences of two accused of Friday’s violence in Saharanpur.

Earlier, the Kanpur Development Authority bulldozed a building the district police alleged belonged to a close relative of the accused in the June 3 violence.
There is a clear and sordid pattern: In an eco-system where violations of municipal and urban planning laws are rampant, bulldozers are being used to selectively punish and subdue. That even the requirement of adequate notice, or the opportunity to appeal, is being dispensed with, is no mere technical issue — it is, as former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur told this newspaper, “totally illegal… a question of rule of law”. Of course, the bulldozer is neither accidental nor incidental in the BJP regime in UP. In the last assembly election, Yogi Adityanath, who won a second term as chief minister, was projected as “Bulldozer Baba”. Since 2019, there have been indications of the new playbook: If earlier, properties belonging to alleged gangsters were attached under the UP Gangsters and Anti-social Activities (Prevention) Act, now they were also being razed, even if the matter was still being heard. Among the affected, SP leaders or former BJP leaders who had joined other parties, figured disproportionately. The administration has expanded the use of bulldozers to put pressure on accused to surrender, and as punitive action against those involved in public protest or accused of violence.

This brutish bulldozer policy the UP government has made its calling card has traveled wider, as the demolitions in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri and in Madhya Pradesh showed. It is now under substantive challenge in three courts — Supreme Court, Allahabad High Court and Madhya Pradesh High Court. It has been challenged as a violation of due process and fundamental rights, but in all three courts, the cases sit on ice. This is distressing. In a constitutional democracy, the bulldozer on a rampage is the state thumbing its nose at the court, the DM and SP playing judge and jury — and loyal executioners. They need to be checked, firmly.