Gauhati HC Grants State Govt 4 Weeks to Submit Status Report on House Demolitions

Demolition

The Gauhati High Court has granted four weeks to the Assam government to file an updated status report in connection with the demolition of houses of people who were accused of setting a police station on fire two years ago.

In an order, Justice Kaushik Goswami stated that senior government advocate D Nath produced a communication, dated January 10 this year written by the joint secretary to the state government, “wherein it is stated that the one-man enquiry committee had submitted the inquiry report to the government in the Home & Political Department on January 4, 2024”.

The government counsel sought four weeks to file an updated status report, which the court accepted.

“Prayer is allowed. List the matter on February 16, 2024,” the court said.

The Batadrava Police Station in Nagaon district was set on fire on May 21, 2022 by a mob following the custodial death of a local fish trader, Safikul Islam (39), who was picked up by the police the night before. A day later, district authorities had bulldozed at least six houses, including that of Islam and his relatives, purportedly in search of weapons and drugs hidden beneath the structures.

After the state government assured actions against the erroneous officials, the Gauhati High Court took Suo moto cognisance after which it disposed of the matter initially through an order on January 3, 2023.

“D Saikia, learned Advocate General, Assam states that a committee consisting of the chief secretary is enquiring into the incidence of bulldozing of the house and appropriate action shall be taken even against the erring officers within a period of 15 days from today,” a division bench comprising then chief justice R M Chhaya and Justice Soumitra Saikia had said.

The bench had also directed the state government to compensate persons affected by the demolition. While disposing of the PIL, the court had asked the government to submit a report of the steps before the high court. It had also stated that the case can be revived “merely by filing a note”.

The matter again came up before the court in August last year, “in pursuance of the note submitted by the aggrieved persons for revival of the PIL, taking recourse to the liberty granted” earlier.

“D Nath, learned senior government advocate, Assam prays for and is granted a short opportunity for responding to the submissions made in the revival note,” Justice Susmita Phukan Khaund had ruled.

The government counsel subsequently informed the court that a one-man enquiry committee had been formed, with the state asking for more time to file the updated status report based on its findings.

Earlier in November 2022, the then chief justice had pulled up the Assam government over the bulldozing of houses and wondered if “tomorrow you need something, you will dig up my courtroom”. He had even equated the bulldozing of the houses to an act in a “gang war” and asked the home department to find better ways of carrying out their investigation.

The Gauhati High Court had then stressed that “bulldozing of a house is not provided under any criminal law” even if an agency is investigating a “very serious matter”.

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