‘Choked by red tape’: Muslims who moved court after Khargone demolitions allege official harassment (Scroll)

Residents claim that the civic administration is refusing to grant them permission for reconstruction and licences to reopen their businesses.

Shakeel Khan shares the photos of his bakeries demolished after the Ram Navami violence in Khargone on April 10.

By / Scroll

It took Alim Sheikh five months to pull together the money to finance the reconstruction of his five-storey building after it was demolished by government bulldozers on April 11. The demolition of his hotel and restaurant had come a day after his hometown witnessed a burst of violence on Ram Navami.

“This is the only source of our livelihood,” said the 42-year-old businessman from Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone town. “We have had to take loans amounting to Rs 20 lakh to restart our lives.”

But getting together the funds to rebuild the business has been only one part of Sheikh’s challenges: obtaining municipal building permissions was just as difficult.

Sheikh was among the 49 Muslim residents of Khargone whose homes and businesses were bulldozed that day, ostensibly because they were illegal. Many of them told Scroll.in that municipal clearances for reconstruction have been ensnared in red tape. They alleged that there was a simple reason for this: because they have filed legal cases against officials who carried out the demolitions.

“When we had gone to get permissions, they told us that the petition we had registered against them… we should take back,” said Abdul Sheikh’s cousin, 36-year-old Shahid Sheikh, about his visit to Khargone’s chief municipal officer. “ If we did that, she would give us all the permissions that were needed.”

Alim Sheikh said that his family has suffered enormously since April 11, the day after a procession to celebrate Ram Navami, the birthday of Ram, made its way through Khargone.

The procession, which included hundreds of young men dancing to loud music and waving saffron flags, stopped in front of a mosque. Each community claims that it was the other that began to throw stones. At least 24 people were injured in the ensuing violence.

The next morning, Home Minister Narottam Mishra told the press that the homes of stone pelters would be razed. All the structures demolished on April 11 belonged to Muslims. Among them was Sheikh’s Lazize Hotel, which he said was more than 50 years old and has been in the family for three generations.

On April 16, Sheikh moved a petition in the Supreme Court against the demolitions of his business, which, he said, was carried out without serving up notice or giving him a chance to appeal.

Since mid-April, the Association of Protection of Civil Rights has assisted in the filing of three petitions in the Supreme Court and 36 more before the Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court against these demolitions. The petitioners have asked for a judicial inquiry against Khargone collector, the inspector general of police and the chief municipal officer “for taking arbitrary action without proper investigation”. They also want the petitioners to be compensated for their losses, for their properties to be rebuilt and for officials who carried out the demolition to be punished.

The petitions state that the action of the administration was “against the principle of natural justice and humanitarian ground of law”. They argue that Home Minister Mishra’s comments caused state officials to act in a biased manner against Muslims, giving the authorities “extra-judicial powers” to demolish their properties.

While the court is still issuing notices to the officials concerned to respond to the allegations, Sheikh and several other petitioners alleged that they were being harassed for acting against the Madhya Pradesh administration.

Significantly, none of these petitioners have been named in any of the first information reports registered to investigate the riots. This, say lawyers, means that the police did not have evidence of their involvement in the Ram Navami violence.

With his business destroyed, Abdul Sheikh defaulted on a bank loan repayment. After three months of waiting, he was finally able to get the permissions, but only after he agreed to make a compromise.

This story was originally published in scroll.in . Read the full story here

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