A day after communal unrest broke out during a Ram Navami procession in Madhya Pradesh's Khargone, the local administration on Monday, 11 April, undertook a demolition drive in areas where the violence had erupted.
The police stated that "they have zero tolerance for violence". This comes after the state home minister had said that "the houses of those who are pelting stones, will be turned into a pile of stones".
"We have started from the area near Mohan Talkies, Khargone. Three establishments were demolished in the area and we are moving forward to other areas to carry out similar drives as per our policy of zero tolerance of violence."Tilak Singh, DIG Khargone
Sources told The Quint that when the Ram Navami procession was being taken out on Sunday, people allegedly belonging to the Muslim community took objection to the music being played in the celebratory march, following which the matter escalated and stone pelting began.
Since then, 77 people have been arrested for Sunday's violence.
'Houses of Those Pelting Stones Will be Reduced to Stones': MP Home Minister
Addressing the press on Monday amidst the turmoil, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra declared that houses of those who pelted stones will be reduced to stones.
"I want to make one thing clear... the houses of those who are pelting stones, will now be turned into a pile of stones."
Meanwhile, on Monday, Khargone SDM Milind Dhoke said, "These establishments were already in the list of illegal, encroached establishments and they were also involved in the stone pelting hence their house shops are being demolished under the anti-encroachment drive of the state."
Visuals of the 'anti encroachment' drive emerged online, capturing buildings and shops being razed in broad daylight.
The Khargone Public Relations Officer also took to Twitter to share a video of the demolition, saying that the drive was in reaction to the financial loss that had occurred during Sunday's violence that caused property damage.
Is Such a Move Legal?
There is no law in force, whether passed by Parliament or the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly, which would allow the demolition of property of those accused of being involved in riots and damage to public/private property.
Punitive action against an accused person can only take place after conviction in a court of law, and even then, this can only involve imprisonment and/or fines, not demolition of their property. Retributive action of this sort, which also runs the risk of being collective punishment since it can impact those who are in no way connected to any criminal activity, is absolutely not allowed under Indian law.
Speaking to The Quint, Shadaan Farasat, a Supreme Court advocate said, “The destruction of dwelling house or shops is not an option available to the authorities for even the most egregious crimes, leave alone stone pelting."
"If these are unauthorised constructions, then appropriate prior notices under municipal laws must be issued. Selective targeting of only few houses, when entire colonies belonging to all communities are allegedly unauthorised is prima-facie arbitrary,” he said.
The Madhya Pradesh government in December 2021 had passed a law similar to the one in Uttar Pradesh whereby those accused of causing damage to public and private property (whether during riots or protests or otherwise), can be sent notices to pay compensation for such damage. However, while this law does allow attachment of property of such persons, that can only take place after a formal claims process has been initiated and a finding made that the person was involved in the damage to property.
The UP law on this, which set the trend, is currently under challenge since it involves punitive action without a finding of criminal liability.
Madhya Pradesh also passed a Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities Act in December 2021, again similar to an old UP legislation. However, even though the UP iteration of this law has been cited by UP authorities when bulldozing the houses of those accused of being gangsters, the legislation does not allow for the demolition of a gangster's property, only its attachment.
The only circumstance in which the demolition of a person's private property is if there is any illegal construction, for instance by encroaching on another person's land, or if the structure fails to comply with regulations. While the local police are now claiming that the properties were in fact illegal constructions, there is a process which has to be followed for demolition in cases like that, including allowing the person an opportunity to be heard.