Three days after the Punjab and Haryana High Court questioned whether a demolition drive in Haryana targeting buildings mostly owned by Muslims was an “exercise in ethnic cleansing”, the case was on Thursday assigned to a new bench.

A bench of Justices Arun Palli and Jagmohan Bansal is slated to hear the matter on Friday. On August 7, a bench of Justices Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia and Harpreet Kaur Jeewan had taken note of the matter on its own.

It was not immediately clear why the case was reassigned to the new bench. The chief justice of a High Court has the power to assign cases to judges.

When a bench takes cognisance of a case on its own, the matter is sent for consideration to the chief justice, according to the Hindustan Times.

However, since the Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Ravi Shankar Jha is not currently holding court, the matter has been listed before the bench of Justices Palli and Bansal, which is slated to hear other public interest litigations on Friday.

From August 3 to August 6, civic authorities in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state demolished allegedly illegal homes and shops of mainly Muslim migrant workers. The action was taken after communal violence in Nuh and Gurugram left six persons dead.

The bench headed by Justice Sandhawalia stayed the demolition drive on August 7, saying it had come to its notice that the Haryana government was “using force and is demolishing buildings”.

The bench added: “Apparently, without any demolition orders and notices, the law and order problem is being used as a ruse to bring down buildings without following the procedure established by law. The issue also arises whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of law and order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the State.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, the Haryana government verbally told the High Court that there is no question of “ethnic cleansing” and the demolitions have been done in accordance to law, reported PTI.

Additional Advocate General Deepak Sabherwal, however, sought more time on the matter, saying data is being compiled, reported the Hindustan Times.

“We have apprised the court that it is not at all a matter of ethnic cleansing and the government never works like this,” Sabherwal told reporters outside the court premises. “For us [the government], all are equal.”

The owners of several buildings that were demolished have told The Indian Express that they did not receive any notices from civic authorities.

However, Nuh Deputy Commissioner Dhirendra Khadgata said that notices had been sent to the owners several times earlier. He claimed it was just coincidental that the demolitions took place at a time when there were suspicions about the involvement of the property owners in the violence.

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