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Protests erupt as bulldozers roll into Delhi's Shaheen Bagh, return without action

Protests erupt as bulldozers roll into Delhis Shaheen Bagh, return without action
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New Delhi: Protests erupted at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh on Monday with hundreds of people, including women, opposing an anti-encroachment drive of the SDMC as bulldozers rolled into the area in the presence of a huge number of police personnel, even as the civic body team was forced to return without carrying out the exercise.

Following the protests, the SDMC officials returned with the bulldozers, an official said.

The protesters raised slogans against the BJP-ruled South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) as well as the Centre and demanded that the action be stopped. Some of the women protesters even stood in front of the bulldozers to prevent the exercise.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea filed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) against the demolition drive at Shaheen Bagh, saying it cannot interfere in the matter at the instance of a political party.

A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and B R Gavai asked the Left party to approach the Delhi High Court instead.

"Why is the CPI(M) filing a petition? What is the fundamental right that is being violated? Not at the behest of political parties. This is not the platform. You go to the high court," the bench said.

Earlier in the day, leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress reached the spot and staged a dharna.

The protests caused traffic snarls at Shaheen Bagh, Kalindi Kunj, Jaitpur, Sarita Vihar and Mathura Road, among other places.

SDMC's Central Zone Chairman Rajpal Singh told PTI that the illegal structures in the area could not be removed due to the protests.

In December 2019, Shaheen Bagh was the epicentre of protests and sit-ins against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The sit-in was called off in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city.

Last month, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) carried out an anti-encroachment drive in the Jahangirpuri area, which witnessed violence between two communities on April 16. The action drew widespread criticism and the Supreme Court had to intervene to stop the drive.

Singh said removing encroachments is the obligatory function of any municipality.

He claimed that the protests were "politically motivated".

Senior police officials were present at the spot, along with a huge number of police personnel, to provide security to the SDMC officials to carry out the drive.

"Police personnel were deployed at the spot where the anti-encroachment drive was being carried out. This is being done to ensure that the civic bodies concerned carry out their work without any hassle and with all safety," a senior police officer said.

Paramilitary forces were also deployed to manage the situation, officials said.

As the SDMC officials reached Shaheen Bagh with the bulldozers, some locals started removing "illegal structures" in the area, an official said.

Akbar (40), who owns a shop at the Kalindi Kunj main road in Shaheen Bagh, said, "The bulldozers arrived in this area at around 11:30 am, but left soon after as there were no encroachments here. People were told and they removed their carts. There was nothing to be removed. The bulldozers left without doing anything."

Congress leaders, including Parvez Alam, the media cell vice-chairman of the party's Delhi unit, were among those detained by police.

Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta slammed the Congress and the AAP for "opposing the anti-encroachment drive".

"Today, it has been proved that the AAP and its MLAs are supporting Rohingyas and Bangladeshis. Those who are lying before bulldozers will be given a reply by people. It is unfortunate that the AAP and the Congress are opposing the removal of encroachments at Shaheen Bagh. I urge the two parties not to link encroachments with religion," Gupta said.

The protests led to traffic snarls in the area. The traffic police assisted the local police to ensure that the commuters were not inconvenienced and traffic diversions were made accordingly.

"The heavy vehicles were first diverted and an alternative route was suggested for such vehicles. Our men were deployed at the spots where congestions were reported to ensure that no inconvenience was caused to the commuters. We diverted all the vehicles going towards Shaheen Bagh towards GD Birla Marg via Kalindi Kunj and then towards Crown Plaza and vice versa," a senior traffic police officer said.

Gupta had written to the SDMC and EDMC mayors on April 20, seeking "removal of encroachments by Rohingyas, Bangladeshis and anti-social elements" in their areas.

A drive was planned at Okhla and Jasola last month, but could not be executed due to the unavailability of police personnel, Singh said.

He added that the civic body plans to carry out an anti-encroachment drive near Gurdwara Road at New Friends Colony on Tuesday, while a similar exercise is planned at Meharchand Market in Lodhi Colony, near the Sai Baba Mandir and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium metro station, on May 11.

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