Recent demolition drives carried out by Delhi civic bodies in Muslim-dominated areas were communally and politically motivated, several civil society organisations and citizens said on Wednesday.

“The use of bulldozers for these demolitions appears to be a willful act of collective punishment to a vulnerable population,” the organisation said. “They [demolitions] were carried out by state authorities on the basis of communal sentiments expressed by several political actors and echoed in various media quarters.”

The organisations and citizens wrote a letter expressing “deep distress and concern” to Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the commissioners of the three municipal corporations in the National Capital. The letter was published by the blog Kafila.

The signatories included women’s rights activists Annie Raja, Malini Bhattacharya and Anjali Bharadwaj, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) member Kavita Krishnan and Dharmender Kumar of the Hawkers Joint Action Committee.

The demolitions were part of countrywide actions by the Bharatiya Janata Party “attacking Muslim lives, practices and livelihoods”, the signatories of the said.

The letter took note of South Delhi Mayor Mukesh Suryan’s statement on April 25 that the municipal corporation will carry out demolition drives in the areas of Shaheen Bagh, Okhla and Tilak Nagar. The signatories alleged that such demolitions have been planned only in Muslim-majority areas of the Capital.

“Massive presence of paramilitary forces in some of these areas as well as frequent processions of slogan shouting crowds led by BJP leaders are contributing to an overall climate of intimidation and terror,” they said.

The civil society organisations criticised municipal authorities for targeting temporary structures such as handcarts and cycle carts that are essential to the livelihoods of poor residents.

“The brutality of the action to destroy the precious belongings of some of the poorest residents of the city is unprecedented in the history of Delhi,” the signatories said. “The affected are overwhelmingly unprotected informal economy workers who have already suffered sudden and severe destruction of their livelihoods during the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.”

The signatories added that contrary to some media reports, Jahangirpuri is not an illegal colony, but an official resettlement established by the government itself.

The North Delhi Municipal Corporation had said that some of the houses in Jahangirpuri were illegal.

“Legally...demolitions may be considered a last resort and can only be carried out after undertaking a proper survey, giving notice to the residents or vendors, allowing them time to respond and strictly following due process,” the letter stated.

The demolitions, the signatories said, amounted to the arbitrary use of power by the municipal corporation.

The signatories have asked the authorities to offer compensation to the residents whose homes were demolished. They should also be rehabilitated and their livelihood must be restored, the signatories added.

Demolitions by Delhi civic authorities

On April 20, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation bulldozed shops and homes, mostly owned by Muslims, in the city’s Jahangirpuri area. The demolitions continued for over an hour after the Supreme Court ordered a stay on them.

Several homes were razed just four days after the locality was hit by communal violence. Eight policemen and a civilian were injured after a clash between members of Hindu and Muslim communities during a Hanuman Jayanti procession.

On Wednesday afternoon, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation carried out a demolition drive in the city’s Tughlakabad area.