Uttarakhand: Fear, uncertainty in Haldwani as 5,000 Muslim homes face demolition

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Haldwani, January 05 (KMS): Fear and uncertainty have gripped the residents of Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani city in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and they are determined not to give up their claim on the land from where the High Court has ordered them to be evicted.

The court’s directive on demolition would render about 50,000 people homeless, the majority of them Muslims.

“We want to request the Prime Minister that our homes should not be demolished. How would we study if our schools and colleges are demolished? We have siblings, where would we take them in this winter,” said a young girl talking to media.

The residents have been holding protests against the eviction order. The administration has issued a public notice in newspapers asking the residents to vacate the land within a week. However, several petitions have been filed in the Indian Supreme Court to challenge the High Court order. The apex court has listed the matter for today.

Residents are raising questions over the claims of the government and railway authorities. In 2007, the latter claimed it had 29 acres of land. In 2022, it was mysteriously extended to 78 acres. Why is it so? In 2016, the state government and Nagar Nigam (municipal corporation) gave a rejoinder in HC challenging the claims made by the railway authorities but in 2022 they mysteriously recused themselves from the case. In 2016, they claimed that the land belonged to the state government, an activist said.

The railway is only claiming the land beside the rail tracks where Muslim settlement exists. A few kilometres up and down the same track, there are Hindu homes, he said.

Activists and lawyers have also questioned the state government and railway with regard to their claims over the land.

Activist Sharjeel Usmani said, “Out of the entire 90 km stretch – from Bareilly station to Kathgodam – this is only 2.1 km area (the Muslim settlement) ownership of which is claimed by the railway. Here they’re claiming 820 metres deep from the track and in the rest of 87.9 km, they claim merely 68-70m deep from the track”.

Lawyer and activist Kawalpreet Kaur pointed out that not railway authorities have failed to produce a single document proving their ownership rights. They have not even produced any road map or plan before the High Court showing the purpose for which they need the land. And there has been no demarcation of the entire area.

Residents are saying that they have title deeds for their homes wherein they have been living for several decades. The area has four government schools, 11 private schools, a bank, two overhead water tanks, 10 mosques, and four temples, besides several shops, built over decades.

“We are not going to flee our homes. We would die but would not flee our houses. People of 80 and 90 years have been residing here for generations. The government will have to pay attention to our demands. We would die but won’t go away,” said a woman resident talking to the media.

Residents feel that the area is being targeted because the majority of the population is Muslim.

“They want to reduce Muslim votes through evictions. We are not being heard. Around 50,000 to 60,000 people are becoming victim of evictions. If such a huge number of people would have been affected in any other area, the government would have intervened,” said a local youth.

Some residents also pointed out that if the railway authorities are genuinely concerned about the encroachments over their land, they should have staked their claim over all land along the track falling in the area. Residents would leave their claims if they treat them all fairly. They are hopeful that they would get fair treatment from the Supreme Court.

“In the Supreme Court, justice-loving people are sitting. We hope that they will talk about truth and justice,” said a resident.

Meanwhile, the district authorities said that they were making preparations for carrying out the evictions and asked for additional security personnel.

District Magistrate Dheeraj S. Garbyal said, “People stay here on railway land. They have to be removed. Our preparations are going on for this. We have sought additional force. We’ll remove them soon.”

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