Following brief arguments, the Supreme Court on Thursday, 21 April, issued notice on the pleas against the anti-encroachment demolition drive that was briefly conducted in Delhi's Jahangirpuri the previous day.
The bench of Justices Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai also confirmed that the status quo order passed by the court on Wednesday would remain in effect while it hears the petitions, which will be next taken up after two weeks.
The original petition before the apex court was filed by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind on behalf of residents of the area, along with another petition against the 'bulldozer drives' being conducted in other parts of the country as well. CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat and a shop owner Ganesh Gupta whose juice shop was demolished during the drive have also filed petitions challenging the demolition in Jahangirpuri.
"If you want to remove encroachments, come to Sainik Farms, come to Golf Links where I stay where every second home is an encroachment," argued senior advocate Dushyant Dave, contending that the authorities were only going after the poor.
He also suggested that the NDMC action in Jahangirpuri had followed a letter from a BJP leader to the Mayor, which was a "sad scenario".
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued that an attempt was being made to associate the Muslim community alone with encroachments, and to urge this action of demolishing their houses if accused of crimes, not just in Delhi but across the country including Madhya Pradesh.
Dave informed the court that they were seeking a stay on demolition of properties in Jahangirpuri, where they claimed that notice hadn't been issued to the residents about supposed encroachments even though this was required by law.
After hearing from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who argued that notice had in fact been provided regarding the illegal encroachments in the area and action begun in January this year, the bench issued notice on the pleas.
The Solicitor General contested the claim that the demolition drives in Jahangirpuri and elsewhere were on communal lines, submitting that in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, notices had been sent about the illegal encroachments in 2021 and that 88 of the affected parties were Hindus and 26 were Muslims.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing the aggrieved juice shop owner in Jahangirpuri, denied the Solicitor General's claim that notices had been issued regarding illegal construction, and insisted that his client had all the necessary papers.
The judges then ordered all parties to file affidavits and counter-affidavits regarding their contentions within the next two weeks.
Court Takes 'Serious View' of Demolitions That Continued After Status Quo Order
A bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had effectively stayed the NDMC's encroachment drive after the petitions had been urgently mentioned by Dave and Sibal.
"Something serious requires your immediate intervention. This is about a completely unconstitutional and illegal demolition which has been ordered in Jahangirpuri area, where riots took place last week," Dave had said in the court.
The order came after several vending carts, shops, and other allegedly illegally constructions were already destroyed by bulldozers during the demolition drive, witnessed by The Quint.
The drive, ostensibly against alleged illegal constructions and encroachments, comes days after clashes broke out in the north-west Delhi district during a Hanuman Jayanti procession.
After the court's initial pronouncement, North Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh told news agency ANI that they would comply with it. "We have stopped our work (anti-encroachment drive in Jahangirpuri)," he had said.
However, the demolition drive continued even after this. As a result, senior advocate Dushyant Dave mentioned the matter again before the Supreme Court at around 12:15 pm. The CJI then directed the Registrar General of the Supreme Court to immediately communicate the order to the Delhi Police commissioner and the NDMC Mayor so that it was complied with.
Speaking in the court on Thursday, Justice Rao noted that the bench would take a "serious view" of the demolition that took place after the Mayor had been first informed about the status quo order.