Bulldozers were back in the news cycle last week with the Yogi Adityanath government’s crackdown on gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmad and his aides, who have been accused of killing a witness in a 2005 murder case.
But as one channel after another hailed the return of “baba ka bulldozer”, the perils of such reportage were ostensibly visible in Prayagraj’s Chakiya locality, where an ANI journalist’s property was demolished without any of these channels reaching out to him for his version.
This, amid the administration pointing to notices being served for illegal construction, and the mainstream media suggesting that the owner was a close aide of Atiq Ahmad.
Jafar Ahmad, a Banda-based journalist for ANI, claimed he was never served a notice. And while he had rented out the premises to Atiq’s wife Shaista Parveen, and his brother-in-law Shaulat Haneef is Atiq’s lawyer, Jafar maintained that he has been targeted and punished for no crime.
“I am being called Atiq Ahmad’s henchman. Something else is being said elsewhere. If I knew that renting your house to someone was a crime then I would have never rented out my house,” the journalist told Newslaundry. “My 14-year journalism career has been destroyed. Whatever respect I had earned has been wrecked in a moment.”
The latest bulldozer campaign in UP took off soon after the murder of Umesh Pal, who was the prime witness in the murder of MLA Raju Pal in 2005, in February. In the new case, jailed politician Atiq is among the accused, as are his brother Ashraf, wife Shaista, and sons Adham and Abaan, among others. They have been booked under provisions of the IPC and Explosives Act.
This came after the Samajwadi Party targeted the BJP government over law and order issues in the UP assembly, and chief minister Yogi Adityanath hit back at the opposition party and its “patronage” to criminals – in a vague reference to Atiq’s alleged links to the SP. “No criminal or mafia will be left. They will all be pulverised,” Adityanath had thundered in the assembly.
The Prayagraj Commissionerate's statement
That the house ostensibly belonged to Jafar Ahmad came to light after the administration’s statement following the demolition. Prayagraj Commissionerate said it is being reported that the house belongs to Jafar but the same is “being ascertained” through a police verification. Officials of the Prayagraj civic agency, meanwhile, told media channels that the house did belong to Jafar.
Jafar said he had purchased the house for Rs 40 lakh by selling his wife’s jewellery, and borrowing money from relatives, including Rs 13 lakh from his brother-in-law Shaulat Haneef, who is also Ateeq’s lawyer. He said it was his brother-in-law who looked after the property, which was purchased from one Miraj Siddiqui.
“I bought this home in January 2021 through my brother-in-law Shaulat Haneef. In March 2021, my brother-in-law said that there is a tenant willing to pay Rs 20,000 per month so I told him to do as he saw fit.”
Jafar and Shaulat Haneef said they will approach the court and the authorities against the demolition. “The administration called the house illegal and demolished the house without notice. This house belongs to Jafar Ahmad, not Atiq Ahmad. Atiq’s wife was a tenant in this house. The authority demolished it wrongfully and we will go to the High Court and the Supreme Court against this. We'll go everywhere,” said Shaulat.
When Newslaundry reached out to Prayagraj Collector Sanjay Kumar Khatri, he disconnected the call saying that he did not know anything on the subject.
Prayagraj Development Authority vice-chairman Arvind Chauhan did not respond to calls by Newslaundry. However, a Times of India quoted him as saying that the house was constructed without its map being cleared by the authority, and that the owner did not respond to multiple notices, the last one sent in May last year.
"I am asking the government and administration to investigate my 14 to 15 years of journalism and see if there were any cases against me. I was never served any notice nor was asked anything. The house was demolished all of a sudden,” said Jafar.