On Thursday, February 8, chaos erupted in the streets of Banbhoolpura, Haldwani, Uttarakhand, as an Islamist mob clashed with authorities during the demolition of an illegal madrasa and mosque. The angry mob launched a violent assault on officials tasked with dismantling the unauthorised structures, which were built on government land near the Banbhoolpura police station as part of an ongoing campaign against illegal encroachments.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police Prahlad Meena, the mob resorted to pelting stones at the police officers and municipal workers present at the scene. Meena highlighted that the demolition operation was conducted in compliance with a court order, emphasising the illegality of the structures erected on unlawfully encroached government land.
The legal battle surrounding the madrasa and mosque escalated further with the filing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on February 6, 2024, by Safia Malik and others from Malik Colony. The petition sought a stay on the demolition and challenged the notice issued by the Haldwani Municipal Corporation. On the day of the demolition, the Uttarakhand High Court convened a hearing on the PIL. However, the vacation bench, led by Justice Pankaj Purohit, declined to grant relief to the petitioners, scheduling the next hearing for February 14.
Despite the court’s decision, municipal authorities proceeded with the demolition as ordered. Municipal Corporation officials revealed that prior notices had been issued to the madrasa-mosque management regarding the illegal construction near the Banbhulpura police station. However, the management failed to provide any documentation validating the legality of the structures. The demolition team, therefore, took action to dismantle the sealed structures, further seizing three acres of adjacent land previously encroached upon.
Notably, local councillor Shakeel Ahmad said that the High Court had not given a final decision on removing the encroachments, The Indian Express reported.
“The next date of hearing was February 14 and when the administration came, we requested them to stop until then,” he said. “We said that we will not stop the administration from demolishing the structure if the court decision is against us. But they did not listen.”
In response to the escalating tensions, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami convened a high-level meeting with police and administrative officials. CM Dhami assured stern action against the rioters, emphasising the imperative of upholding law and order in the region.
Following the meeting, CM Dhami took to social media to convey the government’s stance, pledging to identify and prosecute those responsible for the violence. Municipal Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay reiterated the illegal nature of the encroachments, affirming that significant land clearance efforts had been undertaken during the anti-encroachment exercise.
However, District Magistrate Vandana Singh revealed that the attack on the police and municipal corporation team was premeditated, with mobs armed with stones and petrol bombs targeting the enforcement personnel. Despite the violence, Singh emphasised that the authorities exercised restraint and did not resort to force.
The aftermath of the violence saw conflicting reports regarding casualties, with State ADG Law & Order AP Anshuman initially reporting four deaths and over 100 injuries among police personnel. However, District Magistrate Vandana Singh later clarified that verification revealed two fatalities from the violence.
As the situation unfolds, authorities remain vigilant, navigating the complex intersection of legal mandates, public sentiment, and communal tensions in the aftermath of the Haldwani land dispute.