Prayagraj: Questions That Beg Answers in Javed Mohammad’s House Demolition
New Delhi: The demolition of Welfare Party of India leader Javed Mohammad’s residence (JK Ashiyana) at Kareli locality in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj on June 13, after he was arrested and declared a “mastermind” of the June 10 violence in the district’s Atala area, is now in the eye of storm — with former judges and intellectuals describing it as “illegal”, “extra-judicial” and “in violation of the principle of natural justice”.
They flagged several discrepancies in how the demolition was carried out by the authorities. Let’s take a look at the violation of due process and questions that beg answers.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA) carried out the demolition under the Uttar Pradesh Urban Planning and Development Act, 1973.
Section 27 of the Act, which deals with the order of demolition of buildings, says the removal can be carried out “not less than 15 days” after a copy of the order of demolition with brief statements of the reasons has been delivered to the owner of the property.
Javed’s family says they received the notice, which was pasted on their house half a day before the action was undertaken.
“The first notice we got was the one pasted at our house after 10 p.m on Saturday (late night on June 11),” Javed’s younger daughter, Sumaiya Fatima, 19, told NewsClick.
The house was demolished in the first half on June 12.
The PDA order states that the show cause notice to Javed Mohammad was notified on May 10, 2022. The law clearly states that a copy of the order of removal has to be delivered to the owner and that a 15-day period has to begin after that.
The notice that was pasted on the gate of the house stated that construction of 25 x 60 feet was done without getting permission on the ground and first floor.
Advocate KK Roy, Javed’s lawyer, alleged that the Prayagraj administration had “back-dated” the notice to claim that it was issued on May 10, 2022 and that they had “never got” any such notice.
The PDA, therefore, has to come clean and put in public domain that the notice was actually delivered on May 10 and the 15-day period was adhered to. But this has not happened so far.
When contacted by NewsClick for their response to the alleged discrepancies, PDA Secretary Ajeet Kumar Singh and Joint Secretary Ajay Kumar (the two signatories of the demolition notice) refused to comment. Cell phone calls made to Prayagraj District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Khatri also went unanswered.
OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW CAUSE WENT FOR A TOSS?
The legislation — the UP Urban Planning and Development Act — also states: “No such order shall be made unless the owner or the person concerned has been given a reasonable opportunity to show cause why the order should not be made.”
Sumaiya said: “We had been living in the house for the past 20 years, but we were never told by any authority that it was an illegal construction. We did not get any notice from any authority about our house till Saturday night. If our house was illegal all these years, why did we not hear about it till then? We were paying house tax, water tax and electricity bills.”
The law says that the order for demolition shall not be made till the owner of the property has been given a reasonable opportunity to explain themselves. Therefore, the opportunity to show cause should have been given before the demolition order was issued.
Also, there has to be at least a 15-day period in between for the demolition to take place.
Javed’s family states that the first order they heard of was when it was pasted on the house on Saturday night. Where then did the opportunity for show cause go?
Javed was arrested by the police on Saturday. He was first detained by the Uttar Pradesh police on Friday afternoon for questioning. His wife Parveen Fatima and daughter Sumaiya were also detained. The mother-daughter duo was let off on Sunday morning.
As the notice was issued to them on Saturday, how much time were they really given to make their case before their house was demolished?
Any demolition that took place without the chance to show cause would be violative of the principle of natural justice, as it is like punishing someone without giving him/ her a chance to explain.
The PDA demolition order was addressed to Javed, son of Mohammad Azhar. The family says the owner of the house is Javed’s wife Parveen.
In support of their claim, they have produced a receipt dated February 8 issued by Prayagraj’s Jal Kal Vibhag (which manages operation and maintenance of city water supply and sewerage system and collects tax for the same) and a certificate dated January 28, issued by the Prayagraj Nagar Nigam (municipal corporation) — certifying that “House No. 39C/2A/1 is registered in the name of Parveen Fatima” and that the house tax for financial year 2020-2021 has been paid.
So, why is the PDA demolition notice addressed to Javed Mohammad?
An unnamed senior PDA official quoted by The Indian Express gave a bizarre argument. He said the authority has nothing to do with the legal owner of a property and that it issues notice to the person who undertakes the construction after collecting details from local residents.
The officials concerned, he said, found a name plate on the boundary wall with ‘Javed M’ written on it and locals confirmed that the house belonged to Javed; therefore, a notice was pasted and the demolition was later proceeded.
If the PDA erred in the order and official communication, then would that not make the demolition unlawful and in contravention of the regulations?
Sumaiya said the house was registered in her mother’s name and that it was gifted to her mother by her maternal grandfather. Therefore, as per the Muslim personal law, her father does not have any legal ownership of the property till her mother is alive.
Academician and legal scholar Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, said there were three principles of law: justice delayed is justice denied, justice hurried is justice buried, and justice should not only be done, it should appear to have been done.
“Even if we assume the house was constructed illegally and its demolition that was done hurriedly was a justice, the swift action is like burying the justice, as due process of law should have been followed,” he told NewsClick.
The swiftness of the demolition action has created an element of doubt, he said, and in this case, it appears that justice has not been done. “It is not me who is saying so, legal experts such former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court Govind Mathur and several intellectuals have called the bulldozing illegal,” he added.
Asked how justified is collective punishment for an alleged crime committed by an individual, Mustafa said: “That is a question mark on the concept of justice. Even if we assume that the charges are true, the law of the land, which has evolved over the years and is now more modern and sophisticated, does not allow collective punishment for some illegal done by an individual. If the property was registered in his wife’s name, as is being claimed, it cannot be demolished for the alleged illegal act committed by her husband.”
Mustafa said initiating action only to instill fear will end the respect for law in the society. “Instead of justifying what has happened, if it is admitted that a mistake has been committed by lower-rung officers and it is assured that the government will take corrective course of action, it will serve as a healing touch and embolden respect in the society for the government and the law of the land. If this respect for the law is gone, there will be anarchy in the country,” he concluded.
The demolition of the house took place a day after the Uttar Pradesh police claimed Javed was a “mastermind” of the June 10 violence. The police officially stated that the demolition had nothing to do with the case against Javed in relation to the violence.
“We were not carrying out the demolition, it was the development authority that was doing it. We were there for maintenance of law and order only,” said Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar.
So, is it a complete coincidence then? If only the same coincidence wouldn’t have happened at Khargone in Madhya Pradesh, Khambhat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat, Jahangirpuri in northwest Delhi and elsewhere across Uttar Pradesh on several occasions, then this question about the connection would not have been raised.
Advocate Roy has alleged that the PDA notice, initiating demolition proceedings, was backdated to May 10 and that the backdating was allegedly only done after the UP police named Javed as a “mastermind” in the Prayagraj violence case.
Meanwhile, on June 12, a group of lawyers moved the Allahabad High Court, alleging that the demolition was illegal and pleading the court to look into the matter. When the High Court takes up the plea, the district administration and PDA will have to address the deficiencies cited above.
Meanwhile, according to Advocate Najmussaqib Khan, one of the lawyers who filed the plea, told NewsClick that they had been asked to file a fresh petition as urgency no longer exists because the demolition has already been done.
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