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Intel Failure to 'Violation' of The Law: What Led to Haldwani Violence?

Haldwani violence: A timeline of events shows hasty decisions and a complete administrative failure.

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"Mandir bhi usi ka hai, Masjid bhi usi ka hai. Bass itni guzaarish hai, masmar na karna (The temple and the mosque, both belong to him (God). We plead before you to not demolish them)," said Maulana Abdul Muqeem Qasmi during a meeting between public representatives and district administration in Uttarakhand's Haldwani on Saturday, 3 February.

This was five days before deadly violence gripped the town over demolition of a madrasa and a mosque in Banbhoolpura as part of an anti-encroachment drive.

The meeting was attended by Haldwani Municipal Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay and City Magistrate Richa Singh among several other senior officials.

"We told them that this is a sensitive matter. Several technicalities were also listed where it was claimed that the mosque and the madrasa were not built on encroached land. But above all, we said that we are ready to do whatever it takes to get legal possession or free hold of the land and the administration should give us some time for that," Qasmi, a local Imam and member of Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind in Uttarakhand told The Quint.

Five days after this meeting, Haldwani was burning.

As of Wednesday, 14 February, at least six people were confirmed dead in the violence, 60 were severely injured, and over 300 families had reportedly migrated to safer areas.

As per the police, multiple FIRs have been registered, 30 people are in custody, and a search operation for other accused is underway.

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"All of this could have been avoided. The matter was taken to the court on 6 February, there are documents to show that the plot on which the demolished mosque stood was part of a notified colony under the 2016 Malin Basti Act, and the administration had on 4 February — through local media — publicised that the demolition process has been stalled till the next court hearing which was scheduled for 14 February. Why then did they suddenly go ahead with it?" a resident of Banbhoolpura who was part of the negotiation meetings with the authorities questioned requesting anonymity.

The Quint went through several FIRs, spoke to eyewitnesses, and accessed intelligence report, ownership documents and videos of negotiation meetings between community leaders and authorities to trace a timeline of the violence.

This report seeks to establish how the Haldwani Police, District Administration, and Municipal Corporation not only failed to pre-empt the possibility of violence, it was also unprepared to deal with the fallout. It also looks at court orders and ownership issues that the authorities allegedly overlooked during the anti-encroachment drive.

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  1. 'Demolition Carried Out in Violation Of The Malin Basti Act (2016),' Allege Locals

    At the heart of the conflict in Haldwani are the now demolished Mariam Masjid and the Abdul Razzaq Zakariya madrasa built on a plot of land in Malik Ka Bagicha — a densely populated Muslim neighbourhood in Banbhoolpura.

    Pankaj Upadhyay, the Municipal Commissioner of Haldwani, told The Quint that the mosque and the madrasa were built on nazul land. "We issued a notice for demolition to Abdul Malik, who had encroached the land, on 30 January," Upadhyay said.

    Nazul land is primarily owned by the government and is allotted to people on lease for a fixed period of time ranging from a few years to a few decades.

    Several locals, however, alleged that the locality in which the mosque and the madrasa were located was notified as a 'category A' Malin Basti (slum) under the 2016 Malin Basti Act passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly.

    The Act was meant to regulate and improve the conditions of slum-dwellers living in unauthorised colonies across Uttarakhand.

    Under this Act, people living in 'category A' were to be granted immediate ownership rights. Those in 'category B' could be granted ownership rights after making sure that the areas were geographically and environmentally fit to reside and presented no health hazard, while those in 'category C' were slums where people could not be given ownership rights due to a variety of reasons.

    As per a notification issued by the Uttarakhand Urban Development Department on 21 December 2016, the locality in which the said plot falls was categorised as a 'category A' Malin Basti.

    A copy of this notification was seen by The Quint.

    "If the plot is in a category A Malin Basti, how can the mosque and the madrasa be demolished without proper rehabilitation?" questioned a local familiar with the matter.

    (The Quint has reached out to the Haldwani Municipal Corporation for clarification regarding this. The story will be updated when we get a response.)

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  1. In Between Court Cases, Orders, and Hearings

    A notice regarding the demolition of the masjid and madrasa was first issued by the Municipal Corporation on 30 January.

    The next day, a delegation of citizens including civil society members, Ulema, and local Imams submitted a memorandum to the Nainital District Magistrate, Vandana Singh.

    On 3 February, a meeting was held between community leaders and district administration (more on these two meetings in the next section).

    On 4 February, the district administration sealed the masjid and madrasa in Malik Ka Bagicha after City Magistrate Richa Singh, in a media WhatsApp group, informed journalists that since the case concerning free hold of the land was already pending in the Uttarakhand High Court, demolition drive has been stopped till a verdict is pronounced.
    Haldwani violence: A timeline of events shows hasty decisions and a complete administrative failure.

    "Everybody is informed that on 4 February a demolition drive was scheduled by the Municipal Corporation of Haldwani on two structures constructed on government land. A representation concerning the same has to be disposed in the High Court of Uttarakhand. The demolition drive has been stopped still the matter is disposed in the High Court," the message, written in Hindi, said.

    Subsequently, a notice was issued and the madrasa and the masjid were sealed on the same day in the evening.

    On 6 February, the family of Abdul Malik — who owned the plot of land on which the masjid and madrasa were constructed — moved the Uttarakhand High Court alleging that the land had been leased out in 1937 and was sold to them in 1994.

    Ahrar Beg, Malik's counsel, told The Quint that a plea to renew the lease has been pending before the district administration since 2007.

    The matter was taken up by the court on 8 February and listed for hearing on 14 February.

    However, the municipal corporation went ahead with the demolition on 8 February itself. The action was followed by massive violence in the area.

    While Municipal Commissioner Upadhyay claimed that the drive was sanctioned by the court since no stay was ordered, Beg alleged to The Quint that due process was not followed.

    "The matter was listed for hearing on 14 February. How did they then go ahead with the demolition on 8 (February) itself?" he questioned.

    On 14 February, senior lawyer Salman Khurshid, while appearing for Abdul Malik, argued that due legal process was not followed during the demolition.

    Khurshid claimed that the demolition was done four days after a notice was served to the petitioner, even though as per the process of law, 15 days should have been granted to them to file a reply.

    A single judge bench of Justice Manoj Kumar Tiwari questioned the petitioner how construction could be carried out at the site when the property in question had been leased out by the government as an agricultural land.

    Without going into the question of whether the lease was valid or not, the court called for a counter affidavit by the government.

    The next hearing will take place in the second week of May.

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  1. Concerns Raised During Peace Talks

    Concerns regarding possibility of violence were first raised multiple times during meetings held between community leaders and Haldwani administration on 31 January and 3 February.

    On 31 January, the citizens delegation that met the District Magistrate mentioned how 'sensitive' and 'serious' the matter was as they submitted a memorandum to the DM.

    Among many issues, the memorandum accused the Municipal Commissioner of "misusing his position and power."

    "We want to draw your attention to the repeated misuse of his position and power by Municipal Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay. He has repeatedly misbehaved with the women and elderly belonging to the minority community. We also want to point that not only is the matter concerning free hold rights of the land in question being heard in the High Court, it is also a 'Category A' Malin Basti as per the Malin Basti Act of 2016. A 2018 ordinance passed by the Uttarakhand government postponed decisions regarding these plots to 2024. Considering the sensitivity and seriousness of the situation, we request you to take appropriate action and stop the demolition proceedings," the memorandum read.

    Again, similar concerns were raised on 3 February in a meeting between citizens' delegation and district officials including the Municipal Commissioner and City Magistrate.

    "In our records, that entire area is nazul land (owned by the government). I don't care if the concerned plot of land has a masjid or a mandir built over it. If it belongs to the government and is being encroached by private players for profit, it is my duty to stop such activities," the Municipal Commissioner said in the meeting.

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  1. Intel Warnings Ignored

    The Quint has learnt that between 31 January and 3 February, Uttarakhand's Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) and the State Intelligence Unit (SIU) allegedly shared at least five key security inputs with the state police officials. These inputs warned of possible violence and law and order situation in the wake of the demolition.

    The note (seen by The Quint) was allegedly shared with the Additional Director General (ADG)-Law and Order, Inspector General (IG) of Police (Kumaon Range), and assistant to the Director General of Police (DGP) along with Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP)-Nainital, and Superintendent of Police (SP)-Haldwani.

    • The first input stated that in light of Muslim groups claiming religion-specific targeting of religious places, there is a possibility of retaliation by Hindu groups.

    • The second input suggested that since Banbhoolpura is a Muslim-majority area and the nature of structures to be demolished is religious, administration must take community leaders into confidence before carrying out the drive.

    • The third input suggested that the demolition drive should be carried out in early hours of the day to avoid large gathering, drone videography should be done before the drive to assess the situation, internet services must be restricted, and religious books and symbols must be safely removed from inside the mosque and madrasa.

    • The fourth input warned of a possible protests by Muslim groups, while the fifth input said that the police force must be prepared to deal with women and children being at the forefront of possible protests.

    On 8 February, however, when Municipal Corporation officers along with the district police force and other security personnel reached to demolish the mosque and the madrasa, they were met with large-scale protests by residents. District Magistrate Vandana Singh, in a press conference, claimed that in a "pre-planned" attack, locals threw petrol bombs and pelted stones on the police officers.

    Speaking to The Quint, SSP Nainital, Prahlad Meena, refused to comment on the intelligence note.

    Earlier in a press conference, however, he had said that while the police was adequately prepared, personnel got scattered due to violence shifting the Malik ka Bagicha locality to the Banbhoolpura Police Station.

    It also pertinent to note that contrary to the suggestion of early morning demolition made by the intelligence teams, the authorities began the demolition drive in the afternoon at 3 pm.

    The Quint has reached out to all concerned authorities regarding several claims made in the story. The report will be updated as and when we hear from them.

    Meanwhile, a week after the violence as the search operations, peace talks, and court hearings continue, residents of Banbhoolpura are struggling to return to a normal life.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Uttarakhand   Haldwani   Haldwani Evictions 

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