Demolishing the rule of law 

News: Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to maintain “status quo” on the demolition drive against the illegal constructions in the Jahagirpuri Area, Delhi.

Such demolition drives were also carried on the homes of the alleged rioters in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh and Khambhat in Gujarat which were also hit by communal violence. 

What are the arguments of the local authorities? 

The NDMC issued a statement that the demolition was a part of a drive against “illegal encroachments” 

What are the issues with the recently executed demolition drives? 

These actions of state and local authorities blatantly disregard the due process of law and established judicial precedents regarding evictions of the people from the permanent establishments.  

Such actions undermine the basic tenets of criminal law. They imply the brutal use of the state power for collective punishment 

In fact, most of the urban residents live on the margins of legality. According to the Delhi Economic Survey 2008-09, only about 24% of the city lived in “planned colonies” and the rest lived in informal or unplanned areas like jhuggi  jhopdi clusters and unauthorised colonies.  

The Draft Master Plan of Delhi, 2041 also acknowledges that unplanned areas have emerged as important places in Delhi. They provide high density, mix-use hubs, in addition to affordable options for housing, micro, small and medium enterprises. 

The regularisation of “unauthorised colonies” has become a norm in Delhi Since the 1970s. For example, In the run-up to the Delhi Assembly elections in 2020, the Union Government launched the PM-UDAY (Unauthorised Colonies in Delhi Awas Adhikar Yojana) scheme which confers property rights to residents of unauthorised colonies. 

The principles of natural justice entails that No public authority can demolish buildings without giving the affected parties a reasonable opportunity to be heard. For example, the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957 and the Delhi Development Act, 1957 mandates the authority to serve an advance notice before demolishing the permanent buildings.  

In Ajay Maken vs Union of India (2019), the Delhi High Court invoked the idea of the “Right to the City” and the “Right to Adequate Housing” from international law. The court held no authority shall carry out eviction without conducting a survey and consulting the population on eviction and rehabilitation for those eligible. The locals should be given “meaningful engagement” with respect to the relocation plans 

In the Sudama Singh vs Government of Delhi (2010), The Delhi High Court mandated that the state should comply with fair procedure before undertaking any eviction. 

The present case of demolition of homes and shops of alleged culprits of communal riots is the sign of majoritarian justice 

Way Forward 

In addition to judicial scrutiny, the protection of the rule of law demands a broader political discourse. The issue of the majoritarian upsurge from the state and society is a great cause of concern, 

Source: The post is based on an article “Demolishing the rule of law” published in The Hindu on 25th April 2022. 

Print Friendly and PDF