'Not at behest of political party': SC rebukes CPI-M on Shaheen Bagh demolition

At the outset, a bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai said a political party has filed this case and it would have examined the matter if people aggrieved with demolition drive were to come to the court. Senior advocateP.V. Surendranath, appearing for the Communist Party of India-Marxist, urged the court to stay the demolition drive for at least two days.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea by the CPI-M against demolition drive in Shaheen Bagh by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), saying it would not interfere at the behest of a political party.

At the outset, a bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai said a political party has filed this case and it would have examined the matter if people aggrieved with demolition drive were to come to the court.

Senior advocateP.V. Surendranath, appearing for the Communist Party of India-Marxist, urged the court to stay the demolition drive for at least two days.

However, the bench rebuked the party for knocking on its doors without approaching the high court. "Not at your behest... this is not the platform. You go to the high court," it said, as counsel cited the top court's order of directing status quo on Jahangirpuri demolition drive.

To Justice Gavai's query: "What is the fundamental right violation under Article 32?", Surendranath replied: "It is in the public interest milord and not the party interest."

The bench then noted that there was a difference between the demolition drive carried out in Jahangirpuri, where it ordered status quo, and the one raised in the petition at Shaheen Bagh. The bench said hawkers do not have structures and these are people who sit on a platform.

The bench said: "We have not given license to anybody to come here to say my house cannot be demolished, even if it is unauthorised."

During the hearing, the bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "Why don't you do it in accordance with law?" As Mehta said that only encroachments were being removed and brought on record documents to support his submissions, the bench replied: "Do not demolish structures without issuing notice."

Mehta submitted that the petitioner is making some kind of misrepresentation and no houses were being demolished. "This is a removal of scrapeholdings, like tables, chairs on the road ...... But from where they are getting information that buildings are being brought down," he said.

AS counsel again pressed for relief, the bench said: "We are not seized of all encroachments... we need to balance interest but not when encroachments are being removed."

As counsel contended that he may not get relief from the high court, the bench replied: "How could you say that the high court will not take it up."

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At this juncture, Mehta said in 2020 and 2021, the Delhi High Court had issued directions to remove encroachments on public roads to which counsel asked: "Why were bulldozers being used to remove encroachments?" The bench said the petitioner cannot take shelter under its previous order, and reiterated that it cannot intervene at the instance of a political party.

The bench observed, "Such removal of encroachments is routine exercise. If we have to look at these matters, then we may only look at such cases only."

Concluding the hearing, the bench observed: "We want to protect life, livelihood, but not like this."

The petitioner's counsel then agreed to withdraw the plea and the bench allowed the petitioner to move the high court.

"It is most respectfully submitted that the political executive of Respondent No. 1 Municipal Corporation is maliciously indulging in a political game plan. The entire action of the Respondent is absolutely and manifestly arbitrary and without following any due process of law," said the plea filed by Delhi Pradesh Rehri Patri Khomcha Hawkers Union through its General Secretary.

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The plea contended that without giving a proper show cause notice and giving breathing time to people residing/working in different areas of south Delhi, the respondents proposed to start demolition of buildings denying their precious constitutional rights and right to life.

"The authorities have not issued statutory notice to owners/occupants of the buildings to show cause why the buildings should not be demolished. No notice is issued to them as to how encroachment is made by the occupants/owners of the buildings," it added.