Karnataka High Court on Monday pulled up the state police for razing more than 100 makeshift homes on a private land during an eviction drive in Kariyammana Agrahara, a locality in the suburb of Bellandur, reported The Indian Express. The police had alleged that the tenants were “illegal Bangladeshi migrants”.

“By looking at the face of a person, can one be identified as being a Bangladeshi national?” asked Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka. The bench ordered the state to rehabilitate those affected by the demolitions. The court has sought the government’s response on the rehabilitation plan, and will pass the final order on February 10, reported Live Law.

Several people living in shanties were evicted during a demolition drive carried out on January 12, 18 and 19. The court was hearing a plea filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties challenging the demolitions. The petition claimed that many residents in the migrant settlement were from Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka. “It is submitted that the residents of the property in question are not from Bangladesh but in fact are extremely poor migrant families, having migrated from districts of North Karnataka, including Raichur, Hubli and Dharwad and other states, including Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, and Bihar,” the petition stated. “It appears that the bogey of Bangladeshi is being used to evict the innocent poor.”

The eviction was carried out at a time when protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens are going on across India. The register is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented immigrants.

The Bengaluru civic body, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, had earlier confirmed that the demolitions were unauthorised. The official who had given the order was identified as Assistant Executive Engineer of Mahadevapura Zone, Narayan Swamy. He was suspended as he did not have the authority to conduct such an action on private land.

The police, however, had claimed that the landowner had been sent an eviction notice.

The state, represented by Advocate-General Prabhuling K Navadgi, on Monday said it had nothing to do with the demolition.

However, Chief Justice Oka said there has been misuse of power at different levels. “On the suspicion that they are Bangladeshi, will the police take law into its own hands and write to the owner, and the BBMP act?” he asked. He also asked why the police officer was still in service. “The fact that the state has protected the officer shows that all is not well,” said Oka.

The chief justice said proper process was not followed before the eviction drive, reported The News Minute. “Door-to-door survey by a competent authority must be done,” Oka said. “Proper verification needs to be carried out. No date was set by the BBMP for demolition. The stand of the state government is that they have not done it. Prima facie, it is impossible to accept that the occupants vacated on their own.”

Lawyers representing the owners of the land said squatting on the property left after they “politely requested” them. “Who will believe that people left because they were politely requested to?” Oka asked.

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