|Lt. Ram Vriksh Yadav (second from left) with his supporters in Mathura. FilePhoto:|
Piyush Srivastava, TT, Lucknow, June 6: Government officials traded letter after letter seeking action to free Mathura’s Jawahar Bagh, a public park occupied illegally by cult leader Ram Briksh Yadav and 3,000 followers, but none followed for two years.
Allahabad High Court cited these letters in a May 20, 2015, directive for “appropriate action” that too was ignored for a year, amid police claims that each time they tried to act the Samajwadi Party government stopped them.
A high court bench of then Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud and Justice Manoj Kumar Gupta had issued the directive 16 months after Ram Briksh occupied the park on January 11, 2014, and declared it a “free nation”.
With nothing happening for eight months, the court on January 22 this year issued a notice to the government on a contempt plea. More than four months later, on June 2, came the eviction drive that triggered a gunfight, killing two police officers and 26 squatters, including five women and two children.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will urgently hear a plea for a CBI probe into the violence, the petitioner alleging a collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and the cult behind the long encroachment.
The high court’s May 2015 directive, issued on a petition from Mathura-based lawyer Vijaypal Singh Tomar, cited several official communications about the encroachment:
• On August 15, 2014, the district magistrate had written to the chief secretary about the squatters.
• On March 17, 2015, the district horticulture officer, whose office was inside the park and had virtually been sealed by the encroachers, sought action in a letter to the Mathura senior superintendent of police, with copies to the district magistrate and the Agra divisional commissioner.
The letter said the encroachers had burnt down nearly 2,400 trees, which were state property.
• On April 18, 2015, the horticulture officer wrote to the district magistrate about “unauthorised activities” on the park, where the encroachers conducted arms training and abducted anyone who entered.
• On April 27, 2015, the Agra divisional commissioner wrote to the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police that a certain Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah (Ram Briksh’s organisation) had “taken over the public park; that employees are being assaulted and nearly 3,000 trees have been destroyed for the purposes of firewood”.
These letters were mentioned in the state government’s response to a Right to Information query Tomar had sent. Tomar had placed the reply before the high court.
Noting that no action had followed these letters, the high court said: “Unless a strong message is sent out, it would only result in a situation where a violation of law is encouraged by permitting an encroachment on public space…. Accordingly, we direct the respondents to inquire into the matter and take appropriate action in accordance with law expeditiously.”
When the government sat on the directive, Tomar moved a contempt plea, on which the high court sent a notice to principal secretary (home) Devashish Panda.
“It appeared prima facie that the order of this court dated 20 May 2015 has not been complied with and that there has been wilful and deliberate disobedience of the said order,” the January 22 notice said.
But the government waited three more months and asked the district administration “in the second week of May to sort it out amicably”, a government source said.
Tomar today told The Telegraph over the phone from Mathura that Ram Briksh had terrorised the local administration and police, beating up cops and officials during a handful of half-hearted attempts they had made to intervene. “Nobody dared act against him.”
On Friday, a senior police officer had told this newspaper: “Whenever we tried to remove him (Ram Briksh) from the park, we received a call from Lucknow to go slow against him. We knew well that he had assembled deadly weapons and explosives.”
He had said that when the civic authorities cut off electricity and water to the park two weeks ago, the supply was restored within 12 hours following a call from Lucknow.
Vishal Chauhan, who was district magistrate of Mathura when the encroachment happened, declined to explain why he hadn’t evicted the squatters when this newspaper contacted him over the phone today.
|Clash with Protesters|
Chauhan, now managing director of the UP State Electricity Distribution Corporation, hung up after saying: “I’m MD of distribution and you better ask me about it only. I don’t want to talk about anything else.”
Rajesh Kumar, the district magistrate under whose watch Thursday’s eviction drive happened, was removed the day after and put on the waiting list. Nikhil Chandra Shukla was today appointed the new district magistrate.
Mathura police today cremated Ram Briksh and 11 others, whose bodies were lying unclaimed. The whereabouts of Ram Briksh’s family members are unknown, and his distant relatives had refused to claim his body.
In New Delhi, the Supreme Court bench of Justices P.C. Ghose and Amitava Roy agreed to an “urgent hearing” of the plea for a CBI probe, as sought by petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, apex court advocate and Delhi BJP spokesperson.