The Supreme Court has stayed the Uttarakhand High Court order of 20 December 2022 on the immediate land eviction – or rather, land bulldozing in Banbhoolpura, Haldwani. For the people to be affected, this may be a relief – perhaps only a temporary relief, if you are cautious enough. The Supreme Court underlined the need to consider the humanitarian aspect of the issue in question and accordingly castigated the state government on its lackadaisical approach to the issue per se. No less important were considered the human rights and the Constitutional rights of the citizens concerned. And don’t forget, it is in north India we are talking about and at the very height of winter!
Indeed, these and many related questions have been since repeated in the media and the social media. These need not be reiterated here. It might, however, be pertinent to look at aspects which have not been raised. Questions there certainly are, which could open up hidden dimensions of the Banbhoolpura issue or which may likely ensure that the problem continues to fester.
Uttarakhand, at 22 years a comparatively new state, is still seeking its bearings. And both, the Congress and BJP governments which have alternately been in the driver’s seat, have been extremely accommodative of and influenced by extra-constitutional forces – essentially meaning, illegal dealings and illegitimate dealers in virtually every field of governance.
In such a pliant environment, the young state willfully became “Open Sesame!” for undesirable, ill-considered and reckless “development” which, more than anything else, has meant a rush of legal and illegal construction projects of all kinds. This made land a premium asset, and Real estate, the most sought-after business, black or white, with get instant-rich potential and leading to people of all shades joining the bandwagon full-time, part-time, or even on freelance, sub-letting, any basis – all over the state and particularly, in towns and urban centres like Haldwani.
The presence of such agents lurking in the shadows of governance, both at state and local levels, is becoming more and more obvious. Indeed, in the last 22 years, the land agents and builders have become among the more influential lobbies frequenting the corridors of power.
Do you think this land and builder lobby could have had a role in the Banbhoolpura conflict? Think about it.
The second issue that needs to be checked out is – the privatization of public assets and institutions. And Railways, possibly the largest public sector body, is among the premier resources in line for this disenfranchisement. How many of us remember that in the beginning of his government at the Centre, when privatization of public properties was just beginning to be rolled out, the Prime Minister had stated in public that whatever else he may privatize, he will “never sell” the Railways! But the public is now beginning to realize that, like his most other assurances, that statement too was merely a tactical ploy to deflect attention or “buy” time.
The Banphoolpura settlement is on what is understood to be the Railways’ land, where the original settlers were brought from outside the region and settled here as labour force by the Railway and Forest contractors themselves. But with the privatization of the Railways expected to speed up now, in the eyes of the land mafia, the Banbhoolpura settlement has become a prize that it must catch.
What do you think of this argument being at the heart of the Haldwani fiasco?
Now, combine these two – land and privatization – possibilities with a third fact that over 90% of the Banbhoolpura residents are Muslims, and what do you get!
There are any number of cases of “illegal” human settlements on public land in most, if not all, of the towns and cities in the country. And there are any number of reasons for this, not the least that though the said town or city allows the occupants to find a living and make ends meet, they cannot afford to legally buy land at the alarmingly hiked rates. This is where the land mafia and the political class also come into play, and allows for thriving underhand extortion dealings. At the same time, despite the illegality of the occupation, it never becomes easy to evacuate such people because ultimately the cities need the services these occupants provide. To put it simply, if these illegal settlements were uprooted, most of the middle and upper middle-class urban homes would be at a serious loss, not knowing how to sweep their homes and clean the dishes!
And so, in due course, under whatever pretext but almost invariably, these illegal settlements get regularized – or at least provided with public services and amenities like electric and water connections and other civic facilities.
But consider the words used in the Uttarakhand High Court’s order on Banbhoolpura evacuation – the need of “immediate” removal, and if necessary, by employing para-military forces!
Which government, elected by the people, would act like this? This may be a moral question. But we know, the present ruling dispensation would – against the minorities and particularly, the Muslims. This is the persistent, often loud and physical campaign that is being carried out, more vociferously than ever in the last decade or so. If we are not naïve, we understand this well.
The Supreme Court also commented that the State Government did not prepare and present its case properly. It is quite possible that the government, in the first place, did not actually wish to pursue the case thoroughly but only sought to grasp this opportunity to underline its agenda, sow seeds hatred and division to essentially infiltrate the Hindu mind at large. Perhaps, in the case of the government that seems to perpetually be in the election mode, the minorities are mere en-route hurdles – the ultimate target, like in the Mahabharat, are the brethren Hindus as well.
In Haldwani, the BJP may have already achieved what it sought to.
Biju Negi Hind Swaraj Manch; Beej Bachao Andolan