In editorials published on 14 June, several leading newspapers have expressed deep regret at the highly selective use of bulldozers to damage or demolish houses or other buildings related to or belonging to protesters. The Tribune has written an editorial appropriately titled ‘Free run for bulldozers—Bypassing of due process a dangerous trend ’. This editorial has written, “ The no-holds barred demolition of the house of Mohammad Javed, the alleged mastermind of Friday’s mob-violence in Prayagraj, seems to be an instance of vindictive rather than administrative action.’’ This editorial says that the bulldozer “ is fast becoming the most potent instrument of official high handedness is one state after another.” Mentioning objectionable statements by those in official positions, this editorial says “it is obvious that a particular community was being targeted, with even the fig leaf of ‘due process of law’ being conveniently dispensed with in most cases.”
The editorial notes, “The modus operandi of the authorities is becoming rather predictable—give the alleged offender little or no time to take legal recourse or reply to the notice, if at all it is issued.”
This editorial concludes with an important statement, “The bulldozing of rights of citizens is a dangerous trend for our increasingly vulnerable democracy. The onus is on the judiciary to stop these sledgehammer demolitions from becoming par for the course.”
The Indian Express in an editorial titled ‘Demolition Squad’ has expressed deep regret at what it sees as “a new level of brutalization in public discourse.” More specifically it has stated, “The Uttar Pradesh government’s bulldozer drive, targeting the protester and political opponent, and, by joining the dots, a community , is becoming predictable — that should not take away from the fact that it violates due process. That the Yogi Adityanath administration should wrap its actions in self-righteous claims of the tough state moving against anti-social elements , and that UP officials and politicians should boast about ‘Saturdays following Fridays’ and return-gifts to the riot-accused marks a new level of brutalization in public discourse.”
Further this editorial notes, “That, even the requirements of adequate notice, or the opportunity to appeal, is being dispensed with, is no mere technical issue—it is, as former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur told this newspaper, “totally illegal … a question of rule of law.”
This editorial has also concluded by making a very important statement, “In a constitutional democracy, the bulldozer on the rampage is the state thumbing its nose at the court, the DM and SP playing judge and jury and loyal executioners. They need to be checked, firmly.”
What is common to both these editorials is that they have made critical references to new statements made by persons in official positions which are likely to be considered very hurtful and insulting to an entire community. Just a few days back a big storm had been created due to such statements and the union government should hasten to take suitable action to prevent such inflammatory statements before more problems can be caused by the tendency to go on making such comments. In fact both the union government and even the BJP had clearly stated at that time that such statements should be entirely avoided in future and it is shocking that these instructions have been violated within such a short time.
The Times of India has written an editorial titled ‘System Bull-Dozed’. This is preceded by a quotation which says, “An ounce of prudence is worth a pound of cleverness” ( Baltasar Gracian). Some of the ruling regime members indulging in such recklessness would be well advised to reflect on not just this editorial but this quotation as well.
The Times of India editorial makes a very important opening statement, “Bulldozers are posing a challenge to constitutional rights. But our higher courts are not responding. It’s as if they are in a daze. Or, perhaps we should say, in a state of ‘bull-daze’—a state of systemic passivity when confronted with governments’ unconstitutional use of force. With more house demolitions, in UP and MP, and Gujarat, Assam, Tripura and Delhi civic authorities already in the bulldozer club, violations of basic rights are widespread. But the wheels of justice are moving far slower than the tracks of bulldozers.”
This important editorial adds, “Courts must show much more urgency. HCs and SC can even take suo motto notice because courts’ core duty of determining guilt and punishment, premised on due process, is at stake.”
Further this editorial notes, “The concept of collective punishment was popular in Middle Ages and even codified in law. To state the obvious, it has no place in constitutional democracies. Yet, over the last couple of years, and particularly over the last few weeks, bulldozers ordered by state officials are posing a dangerous question to the rule of law.”
To these we can add the no less strong sense of regret and resentment expressed by several other leading newspapers and web-sites. This reflects the wider feelings among a large number of people. One can only hope that the ‘bulldozer justice’, a term used by The Times of India, will soon be replaced by some real justice.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Man over Machine and Planet in Peril.