This Article is From Jan 05, 2023

4,000 Homes, Schools, Mosques: Uttarakhand Demolition Row In Supreme Court Today

Haldwani locality faces demolition after Uttarakhand High Court order on "encroachment" of railway land; thousands of residents protesting

Haldwani/New Delhi:

The Supreme Court will on Thursday hear a petition challenging the Uttarakhand High Court's order to vacate 29 acres of railway land in Haldwani as residents of the 4,000-odd home continue to protest, pray, and beseech officials not to go ahead with the demolition.

Besides houses — nearly half of the families claim to have land lease — the area even has four government schools, 11 private schools, a bank, two overhead water tanks, 10 mosques, and four temples, besides shops, built over decades.

The district administration, following the court's order of December 20 after a long litigation, has issued a notice in the newspapers asking people to take away their belongings by January 9. It covers a 2-km strip of land near the Haldwani railway station — Gafoor Basti, Dholak Basti and Indira Nagar, in Banbhulpura area.

Officials carried out an on-ground inspection while residents continued to hold candle marches, sits-ins and prayers to stop the eviction.

A congregational prayer, 'Ijtemai dua', was performed by hundreds of them at a mosque in the locality. Imam of Masjid Umar, Maulana Mukim Qasmi, told ANI that people collectively prayed for a solution. Some of the protesters were seen crying.

After activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan made a formal mention in the Supreme Court, a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices SA Nazeer and PS Narasimha said it would be heard on Thursday.

Blaming the BJP government for action against an area where most residents happen to be Muslim, activists and politicians have also joined the protests.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Harish Rawat held an hour-long 'maun vrat' (vow of silence) at his home in state capital Dehradun. "Uttarakhand is a spiritual state," he said, "If 50,000 people including children, pregnant women, old men and women are forced to vacate their homes and come out on roads, then it would be a very sad sight."

"The Chief Minister is the guardian of the state. My silent fast for an hour is dedicated to [Pushkar Singh Dhami]," he said.

Mr Dhami has said his government will respect the Supreme Court's decision.

Police and the civic administration say the high court's order as applicable for now has to be followed. "We've divided the area into zones for easy implementation," regional police chief Nilesh A Bharne told news agency ANI.

Residents have been questioning the timing and intent of the railways.

Ayub, 65, showed NDTV what he called an approved map for his home. Others asked how they had been given sewerage connections by the government, which had also built schools on the land.

District Magistrate Dheeraj S Garbyal, however, said, "People stay here on railway land. They have to be removed. Our preparations are going on for this. We have demanded force. We'll remove them soon."

But 70-year-old Khairunisa, one of the protesters, told The Indian Express, "I am here today and might not be around tomorrow; it's my children and grandchildren that I am worried about. Where will they go if our house is demolished? Did the railways wake up only after houses, schools and hospitals were built on this land?"

The matter reached court in 2013, when a petition was originally about illegal sand mining in a river near the area.

The Express report said a Government Girls' Inter College (GGIC), which has over 1,000 students, also faces the prospect of demolition. A staff member was quoted as saying that the institution came up in 1952 as a junior high school before being upgraded over the years to become an inter college in 2005.

The administration has acknowledged that over 2,000 students will be affected. The plan is to shift them into prefabricated structures in another area nearby for now.

About how such large-scale construction was permitted on its land, divisional railway official Vivek Gupta was quoted as saying: "This (encroachment along railway lines) is a nationwide phenomenon. We regret this."