There’s an uneasy calm in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani on Friday morning following a violence and turbulent night. People in the area of Banbhoolpura area in Haldwani are still reeling from the violence and deadly clashes they witnessed on Thursday night in which four people have died and over 250 are injured.
Authorities have now imposed curfew in the area, with shoot-at-sight orders issued against rioters and internet services have also been shut down. Schools and education institutions will also remain shut today.
But what exactly happened in Haldwani on Thursday? Why did violence break out in the town? And what comes next for the people living there?
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How and why did the violence begin?
The widespread violence began on Thursday over the demolition of an illegal madrasa and an adjoining mosque. Last afternoon, around 2 pm, a police team from Banbhoolpura police station arrived at ‘Malik ka Bagicha’ and razed the illegal madrasa and the adjoining mosque.
However, the officials were met with resistance from angry locals who tried to block the authorities from carrying out the demolition work. In fact, the crowd began pelting stones at the officials present there.
At first, the authorities resorted to a mild lathi-charge of the people present at the demolition site, but that angered the crowd more, forcing the personnel to retreat to the police station.
Reports say that the mob then surrounded the police station and continued to pelt stones at the personnel. Some miscreants also hurled a petrol bomb at the police station and burnt the entire structure. Vehicles outside the police station were also set on fire, further deteriorating the law and order situation.
DGP Abhinav Kumar later was quoted as saying, “Some miscreants started stone pelting and violence. The exact sequence of events that led to this kind of situation is a matter of administrative inquiry. We will check what was the cause for this kind of public anger, and if there is some conspiracy, we will look into it.”
He further added that the rioting went on for three-four hours starting around 5.30 pm, and by 9 pm, the situation was brought under control.
The ensuing violence has killed four people and over 250 people have been injured. Those hurt have been taken to Soban Singh Jeena Hospital for treatment, with medical authorities adding that most of the injured have suffered head and face trauma.
As chaos gripped the area, shops and stores in the main market shut down. Several factories in the area also pulled down their shutters.
What do officials say?
After bringing the situation under control, the local administration imposed section 144 of the The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in Banbhoolpura. Moreover, shoot-at-sight orders have also been issued for rioters, officials said,
When asked about reports of police using force with the locals, DGP Abhinav Kumar retorted that as per the law, the police are authorised to fire back in self-defence when faced with a violent mob that resorts to stone pelting and arson. “I have been told that there were some firing incidents (from the side of the police). But we are still gathering information about the exact number of rounds fired,” he was quoted as telling Indian Express.
He further said that the property damage is still being assessed and that the chief secretary and ADG Law and Order would be in Haldwani to do a proper assessment of the situation.
Was the demolished structure legal or illegal?
While authorities are still assessing the damage, questions are also being asked if the razed mosque and madrasa were indeed illegal.
Shakeel Ahmad, Councillor of Ward Number 31, under which the incident took place, told Indian Express that the High Court had not given a final decision in the case of removing illegal encroachment.
However, this claim has been rejected by the authorities. Senior Superintendent of Police Prahlad Meena said the demolitions complied with a court order. The SSP further added that even a prior notice had been sent to the residents in the area about the demolition.
Nainital District Magistrate Vandana Singh in a press conference on Friday morning said that the action at the area only happened after the HC’s order and everyone was given notice. Furthermore, she said, “It is an empty property that has two structures, which is not registered as religious structure or has been given any such recognition. Some call the structure a madrasa.”
In fact, a hearing was held by the Uttarakhand High Court on a PIL seeking to stop the demolition. However, the court didn’t grant any relief following which the demolition exercise began.
#WATCH | Uttarakhand: Security stepped up in several parts of the violence-hit area of Haldwani.
Violence broke out in Banbhoolpura, Haldwani following an anti-encroachment drive yesterday. pic.twitter.com/dvVW1oGhU4
— ANI (@ANI) February 9, 2024
Following the violence, the administration has imposed a curfew, ordering for people to stay at home. Furthermore, internet services have been suspended. The Uttarakhand government has also issued a high alert for the state.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami also convened an emergency meeting following which he appealed for the public to maintain peace. He stressed that ‘anti-social elements’ had clashed with the police, leading to the current situation. Furthermore, additional police and central forces have been deployed to the area.
#WATCH | Haldwani violence | Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami says, “In Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani, a team from the administration had gone for an anti-encroachment drive, following Court’s order. Anti-social elements there entered into a brawl with the Police. A few Police… https://t.co/7OgN1O22lU pic.twitter.com/hDMUWyZDjF
— ANI (@ANI) February 8, 2024
In a statement, the Nainital District Magistrate’s office has also said that losses incurred during the incident will be compensated by the rioters. “The police and administration have shown patience. Our campaign against illegal encroachment is not going to stop,” said the statement.
Uttarakhand DGP Abhinav Kumar has vowed that they have extensive videographic evidence and in the days to come, the people behind the violence would be identified and strict action would be taken against them.
With inputs from agencies