//Gujarat: Telling a religious encroachment tale

Gujarat: Telling a religious encroachment tale

Police fired at chest level in Vadodara

Mosiqi Acharya, CNN-IBN ,May 05, 2006 at 21:59

Vadodara: An incriminating piece of evidence was caught on tape, which showed the angle at which the police in Vadodara were firing to restore peace.

The visuals, which were filmed on Monday, the day riots broke out in Vadodara, show the angle of a policeman’s gun, pointing straight at the mob instead of in the air.

Two people were allegedly killed in the firing.

The evidence has left the police open to the charge of shooting to hurt, and not to control the crowd.

The Gujarat police has been vulnerable to this charge ever since the riots of 2002.

Says Deepak Swarup, police commissioner, Vadodara, "Police had to resort to firing because our priority was to bring the situation under control. Chest level firing is not possible, because senior police officials were deployed for this task. Unfortunately, two people were hit. Chances are they were bending down at the time of firing."

Firoz Ghanchi, a victim of police firing said, "Police was firing at chest level. They should have fired in the air, but they did not."

The national commission for minorities has demanded a probe into the shooting. The central government has also asked for a full report.


Burnt car puts Gujarat police under cloud

AGENCIES[ SATURDAY, MAY 06, 2006 12:29:55 AM]VADODARA: The burnt, flattened Tata Sierra is still lying there — a mute testimony to the horrors of three nights ago, when its owner Mohammed Rafiq Vohra was pulled out and torched alive outside his home in this communal tinderbox. And the police allegedly did nothing.
The 35-year-old’s mother Banuben comes out of her home in Vohra Colony, looks at the mutilated car numbly with red swollen eyes and slowly goes back inside.

“That was his special car. Everyone in this area could identify the vehicle when he used to come home with all four lights on. They must have been waiting for him only,” is all she manages to say of her son, who became the most violent victim of the latest round of violence that killed five others, mostly in police firing.

Rafiq, who was in the transport business, also leaves behind two children, a son aged 12 and a daughter aged seven. And his brothers, who mourn the loss of a sibling and nurse the everlasting regret of why he always forgot his mobile phone.

Younger brother Mehmood is of firm belief that had he been contactable on the phone that night, his life could have been saved.

The day before, civic authorities had bulldozed a 300-year Muslim shrine, following court orders to remove all illegal structures, including religious ones, leading to immediate protests and police firing. The situation had been surcharged since then and no one wanted to take a chance.

So Vohra’s family had been trying desperately to call him ever since they noticed a mob gathering around the Ahimsa Circle on the main road at around 9 pm on Tuesday, just 300 metres away from their home.

According to Mehmood, numbed by repeating the story endlessly to the media and others, the family had sensed the intent of the mob as “they frequently tried to provoke Muslim youth by throwing stones at the shop round the corner.”

“We lost hope that Rafiqbhai would receive our call, thinking that he must have again forgotten his cell somewhere. We then tried to call the police. You know what happened then,” says Mehmood in despair.

“The police didn’t come. A fire tender came and turned away, when we tried to stop it. An elderly gentleman of our colony even lay down in front of it to stop it from going. But it was of no avail.”

Rafiq’s elder brother Nisar breaks in, “Our locality was not targeted even during the ’02 riots when entire Gujarat was burning. However, looking at the activities that night and the police neglecting our call, we believe that the killing was nothing but a pre-planned act.”

Two hours after the crowd started gathering at 9 pm, Rafiq drove in his SUV at about 11 pm from work.
“We saw from the terrace that his vehicle hit the divider and overturned. He was brought out and lynched. Seeing this, we rushed to rescue him. When we reached there, I saw some boys beside the car,” says Mehmood, who also received injuries while trying to save his brother.

Says an agitated relative of Rafiq’s, “He was burnt alive. What was his fault? How come the rioting here continued for three hours? Because there was police support behind them.”

Mehmood has named 14 people who were at the spot and has lodged a police complaint as well, but none of them have been arrested yet.

When asked why, Vadodara police commissioner Dipak Swarup said, “We have arrested so many that we don’t even have enough space to keep them. In this case too, the law will definitely take its due course.”

If the ’02 Gujarat sectarian violence, in which at least 1,000 people were killed, is any indication, that might take a long, long time, say many of the aggrieved residents here.


Gujarat: Telling a religious encroachment tale

Palak Nandi, Friday, May 05, 2006 at 1437 hours IST

Call it a classic example of how religious encroachments begin and then, stay forever. The Lord Hanuman and Anjani Mata Temple, which was illegally built on private land on the road linking Thaltej Crossroads and Bodakdev Crossroads in Ahmedabad, seems to stand out.The temple, which earned a specific observation from the Gujarat High Court, stands on the roadside, is a traffic bottleneck and was built without approaching the owner. The land is owned by an institute, which says it complained to the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA). So what was AUDA doing during the 10 months when it was being constructed?

What it’s doing now: Nothing.So while in Vadodara, the municipal body goes hammer and tongs at its demolition drive in the name of development, in Ahmedabad, it seems to rest content letting religious encroachments thrive in the name of God.Here’s telling an ‘‘illegal’’ religious structure tale: Originally located at Thaltej crossroads, the temple is said to be over 50 years old.

Then, it was a small deri, which people used to navigate around like a traffic island.Following a 10-year-long dispute about the location with Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA), the temple authorities — they called themselves friends of the temple — decided to move. Where to? They zeroed in on a stretch of land 100 metres away and started building last year. No permission was sought — neither the AUDA’s, nor from the party that owns the land (Sardar Patel Institute (SPI) of Economics and Social Research).Interestingly, no one knows who funded it though temple authorities say ‘‘donations did it.’’ But the small deri soon turned into a big stone temple, complete with marble flooring, ample seating arrangements, a couple of rooms and drinking water facilities for ‘‘bhakts.’’ Clearly, lakhs were spent on the construction.The temple, incidentally, happens to be on the road which judges take to commute from their residences in Judges’ Bungalows to the Gujarat High Court.

The construction of the temple began last year, when AUDA was headed by treasurer of BJP state unit and main fundraiser Surendra Patel. It continued even after senior IAS officer K Kailshnathan took over AUDA. Clearly, the authority wasn’t doing much.Even now, no one’s sure
how could the temple, not a small structure by any standards, come up. Temple authorities say the plot was given to them by AUDA, while the authority maintains that it’s a private plot which is why they can’t take any action. What does the private party concerned have to say? Sardar Patel Institute (SPI) of Economics and Social Research refuse that the temple on its land was given a nod.‘‘The land is very much the property of the institute and when construction of the temple began, we filed a complaint with AUDA. They did not act.

The plot is not surrounded by a boundary wall, which is why AUDA did not entertain our complaint and we couldn’t do a thing,’’ says SPI director Dr Naresh Shah.Temple authorities can’t furnish any official documents to prove that the land, where a massive demolition drive was once undertaken to remove slums, was given to them by AUDA. But they refuse to let go of one point. ‘‘How come suddenly everyone is realising that this temple is illegal? It didn’t come up overnight, in fact we had a stone-laying ceremony and construction took 10 months,’’ says Ramesh Acharya, one of the volunteers. On the Gujarat High Court observation, he says: ‘‘‘Did authorities not notice the structure when it was under construction?’’

Meanwhile, AUDA flatly denies that they gave the plot for the temple and say that their approval was not sought. ‘‘To my knowledge, that particular plot is private land. AUDA should have been approached, but we were not. Whose land is this and did the owner give permission or not, is something we will verify now,’’ says senior Town Planner Harshal Shukla.AUDA CEO Jagdish Pandya says: ‘‘The temple is located on a private plot but has also encroached on the road. We’ll look into that.’’However, things have changed with the area now falling into the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) limits. The big question remains: who will ensure that the illegal structure is demolished? Both AUDA and AMC officials refuse to comment. Till then, God help the commuters.

What the Gujarat HC said:‘‘Just before recent construction near Thaltej crossroads, the road was widened by removing hutments for the purpose of smooth traffic as there was lot of traffic congestion on the crossroads. Unfortunately, after removing those poor slum-dwellers, this temple has come up causing lot of hindrance on the public road and at times, resulting in traffic jam.’’There are others too.Some more illegal structures have found a mention in the High Court order:A deri on the same road.Nobody knows just how old this small ‘deri’ of Goddess Kali is. ‘‘It’s always been here. From what I know, it has been here even before this part of the city started developing,’’ stated one of the residents of the slums behind. Located near CEE crossroads, the temple is another structure which encroaches the road. While the slums around it were demolished by AUDA, this was left.