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Why Haldwani Is Burning: Earlier Evictions To Demolition Of 'Illegal' Madrasa And Mosque

This is not the first time the Muslim-dominated Haldwani region in Uttarakhand has witnessed communal violence over 'illegal' structures.

| Photo: PTI
Communal violence in Haldwani | Photo: PTI
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Muslim-majority Haldwani in Uttarakhand continues to burn following the demolition of an 'illegal' madrassa and an adjoining mosque in the Banbhoolpura area. Two people have been confirmed dead while 250 people have been injured as violence spread across the town following the destruction of the monuments on Thursday. Among them, three people have been reported to be critical and undergoing treatment in the hospital.

Earlier, the death toll was reported to be four but on Friday, Nainital District Magistrate Vandana Singh revised it to two and there was some “confusion” over the death toll.

A curfew has also been imposed with internet services being shut to control the violence. An order has also been passed to shut schools and educational institutions in the area. Over 1,000 police personnel and special forces have been deployed to tackle the situation.

How did the violence develop?

During a press conference jointly held by the DM and Senior Superintendent of Police Prahlad Meena, Singh said that the structures stood on encroached government land and were demolished after prior notice in compliance with a court order.

The demolitions were carried out in the heavy presence of police, Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel, municipal commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay, city magistrate Richa Singh, and SDM Paritosh Verma. It began after the Municipal corporation had taken complete legal possession of the two structures, she said.

Rioting by residents of the area began 30 minutes after the demolition of the two structures which were not registered, the DM said. Police personnel were pelted with stones by the mob of rioters who were dispersed without using unnecessary force. They also hurled petrol bombs at the Banbhoolpura police station.

The bomb-hurling mob was also controlled by police without using much force but it had to retaliate when they came to the police station and set fire to it Police vehicles in large numbers were torched and there were also attempts by rioters to burn police personnel alive forcing them to run to the police station for cover, she said.

As the violence escalated on Thursday, all the shops in Haldwani were closed. After the imposition of curfew, all schools from Classes 1-12 in and around the city have also been closed.

Angry residents, including women, in large numbers descended on the streets to protest the action as the demolition of the two structures began. They were allegdely seen breaking barricades and arguing with the police personnel engaged in the demolition exercise.

On anti-encroachment drive

Singh told the media, "After the HC's order action has been taken against encroachment at various places in Haldwani."

Municipal Commissioner Upadhyay claimed that the madrasa and namaz sites were illegal, highlighting that the Haldwani civic body had previously seized three acres of nearby land and sealed the structures.

Singh then continued, "Everyone was given notice and time for hearing...Some did approach the HC some were given time while some were not given time. Where time was not given demolition drive was conducted by PWD & Municipal Corporation. This was not an isolated activity and was not targeted to a particular asset."

The DM further explained that the building which sparked the violence in the area was not registered as a religious structure but some called it Madrasa. She said, "It is an empty property that has two structures, which is not registered as religious structures or have been given any such recognition. Some call the structure a Madrasa."

She then continued to say that a legal process to remove encroachment was conducted in many areas and similarly it was done here as well. She said, "We decided to continue the demolition drive because there was no stay on the assets."

"Our teams and resources moved and nobody was provoked or harmed...No actions were taken (by Police and administration) to cause harm to life and property...The demolition drive began peacefully."

Speaking about how the violence began, Singh described, "..Despite the entire process being carried out properly, a large mob, within half an hour attacked our municipal cooperation team..."

What is the current situation?

Following the violence, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami summoned a high-level meeting with senior officials in Dehradun to discuss prohibitory orders and the necessity for a shoot-at-sight policy against rioters to control the escalating unrest.

As the situation remains tense, Dhami has directed forces on the ground to deal with “anarchic elements” sternly. 

Earlier evictions in Haldwani

The Muslim-dominated Bhanboolpura area has previously seen protests erupt over evictions along the railway tracks. In December 2022, a master plan was prepared to remove encroachments from the railway land in the Banbhoolpura area.

The master plan was prepared at a high-level meeting between administrative officials and ADRM railways in compliance with a recent order of the Uttarakhand High Court for the removal of encroachments, according to an earlier report by the PTI.

In an earlier report by Outlook, on December 30, the residents of the disputed Haldwani neighbourhood received notices form local authorities asking them to vacate the premises within a week. The move led to panic and protests and thousands took to the streets of the transit town in protest against the proposed demolition. Many media organisations compared the protests with those in Shaheen Bagh in the winter of 2019-20 when thousands of women took to the streets in the winter to protest against CAA-NRC. 

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The eviction order came in the wake of a land dispute that dated back decades. The North Eastern Railways claims that a large portion of the land surrounding the tracks is its property and that the residents have built illegal encroachments of Railway property. Residents however claim that the land is Nazul land and that the Railways has no basis to prove that it owns the land. They also contend that thousands of land ownership cases and appeals by residents are pending in district courts under the Public Premises Act, 1971.

Last year in December, the Supreme Court expressed the urgency for these lands to be cleared to have trains like Vande Bharat run their operations. 

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