The trend of demolishing properties of alleged criminals and rioters has put the spotlight on hardships suffered by their immediate family members, while social activists and a section of politicians have raised questions over legality of such punitive actions.
In the last few months, Madhya Pradesh has seen a number of instances where people accused of involvement in heinous crimes and violence have seen their “unauthorized” houses and shops being swiftly bulldozed by government agencies.
Earlier this month, the Bhopal district administration demolished the “illegal” house of a bus driver who allegedly raped a minor girl, a nursery student of a renowned private school.
After the driver was arrested by the police, officials from the local administration reached his two-room temporary home in Ajay Nagar in the state capital and flattened it without giving any opportunity to his family members to shift to some other place. The family alleged no prior notice was given before pulling down their home.
An official involved in the demolition job justified the action, saying the “structure was illegal so we demolished it.” But a social worker, who wished to remain anonymous, asked, “How did this illegality come to notice of the administration only when he committed a crime? Where were they when the house was being constructed?” Authorities should have given a thought about the driver’s family members, including his wife and two minor girls, besides parents who are now without a roof on their head, he said.
“We are now forced to live with our daughter and son-in-law in the Kolar area. Nobody is listening to us. We have been rendered.
“No notice was given to us (before demolition). They just came around 5 pm and asked us to leave the place immediately and demolished the house,” the accused driver’s 52-year-old father told PTI.
The driver was staying in the house with his wife (28) and two daughters aged six and four years.
“What was their fault?” his distraught father asked? Similar incidents of demolishing “illegal” structures of those allegedly involved in various crimes, including riots and stone pelting, were reported from various parts of the state in the last few months.
In April, the Khargone district administration bulldozed at least 50 “illegal” structures of people accused of pelting stones at a Ram Navami procession in Khargone city. These structures included homes and shops.
A senior official had then said the “government has a zero-tolerance policy towards rioting”. “Our house was demolished in the rainy season. Where will we go now with two small girls?” the driver’s wife asked.
A senior functionary of a non-government organization (NGO) termed such punitive actions as ”totally unjustified”.
Archana Sahay, NGO Aarambh’s director, told PTI, ”The authorities should not punish family members of accused persons.
”They should think about their family members, especially minor children and elderly parents, who have to suffer for the deeds of their close relatives.” Sahay said the administration’s argument of “illegality” being the ground for carrying out demolition drives does not sound convincing.
”They wake up only after someone has committed a crime. If such actions are carried out, then the government should make alternate arrangements to house displaced family members who suffer for no fault of theirs,” the NGO director maintained.
Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Madhya Pradesh state secretariat member Badal Saroj criticised the Bhopal district administration for its “heartless” approach in tearing down the house of the bus driver.
“It is totally unjustified to demolish the house of a person who has allegedly committed a crime. Filing of an FIR (first information report) in a case doesn’t mean a person is guilty of a crime.
“It is the job of courts to conduct a free and fair trial and then punish a person…the administration cannot act like this,” Saroj said.
The CPI(M) leader said an entire family cannot be punished for a wrong committed by one person.
“The house in question (in Bhopal) not just belonged to the accused, but to his entire family. His family members cannot be punished for the fault of their close relative. It is highly objectionable,” he said.
This trend of demolishing properties of people accused of involvement in crimes and rioting began in Uttar Pradesh and now it is being followed in other parts of the country. However, the Supreme Court has not approved of such actions, the veteran Communist leader said.
Post-riots in Khargone after the Ram Navami festival, a property belonging to a man who had lost both his arms was demolished by the administration. How can such a person throw stones, he asked? “These actions were taken in a selective manner by the administration, targeting only the poor and minorities, while influential people were not touched,” Saroj said.
“Even if someone’s house is illegal, there is a process to be followed before demolishing it. Things cannot be done in an arbitrary manner,” he said.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) justified the demolition of the Bhopal bus driver’s home.
Madhya Pradesh BJP spokesman Rajnish Agrawal said, “It was a joint action by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and the police. The accused person’s house was illegal and hence it was demolished.
“The case against him will be tried in a fast-track court which will decide the quantum of punishment for him.” The action (demolition) was undertaken to convey a message that such persons will not be accepted in the society under any circumstances, Agrawal said.
When pointed out that the bus driver’s family members have been rendered homeless for no fault of theirs, Agrawal avoided a direct reply and maintained the house in question was built illegally.
State Congress spokesman Narendra Saluja said besides the driver, action should also be taken against the private school’s management over the sexual assault incident.
“Strict action should be taken against the school management in the matter,” he insisted.
Asked about the administration pulling down the accused person’s house, the Congress spokesman said “he has committed a crime so he has to pay a price for it”.
“Such people are enemies of humanity,” Saluja said.