A Hanuman temple in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk was razed in the morning of January 3 as part of a beautification drive. The demolition sparked a political blame game where the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) accused each other of tearing down the Hindu place of worship. This has been reported by news media including Times Now, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express.

That same day, AAP posted images of its members protesting against the BJP and wrote, “Useless BJP has demolished ancient Hanuman Temple in middle of the night. This action by BJP has hurt the faith of lakhs of people. AAP volunteers protest against this cruelty.” AAP leader and Delhi Jal Board Vice-Chairman Raghav Chadha tweeted criticising the BJP. This was retweeted over 800 times. (archived links 1 and 2)

On January 4, BJP leader Adesh Gupta held a press conference refuting AAP’s allegation. Gupta called the Delhi Chief Minister anti-Hindu and alleged that AAP leader Satyendra Jain who heads the religious committee could have stopped the temple’s demolition. Gupta added that the temple was demolished under a beautification project by the Delhi government. (archived link)

On January 5, AAP MLA Shri Saurabh Bhardwaj told the press that the temple was demolished at midnight when it was raining. Bhardwaj presented a promissory note that allegedly stated that North DMC said that they are ready to demolish the temple. He questioned the existence of such a document without the alleged knowledge of BJP mayors. He also mentioned NGO Manushi Sangathan filed a writ seeking demolition of the temple. Furthermore, Bhardwaj said that CBI should look into the matter and that this protest will be turned into a people’s movement.

Important press conference by AAP MLA Shri Saurabh Bhardwaj | Live

Important press conference by AAP MLA Shri Saurabh Bhardwaj | Live

Posted by Aam Aadmi Party on Monday, 4 January 2021

Times Now reported on this tiff between AAP and BJP on January 5. At the 43-second mark, Chadha said, “An organisation under BJP demolished the temple. You [BJP] should apologise to devotees of Lord Ram and Hanuman for demolishing the temple. BJP should allot land for the re-establishment of the temple and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Lord Hanuman devotee Arvind Kejriwal will make the temple.”

In the same Times Now bulletin, at 1:11 mark BJP member Manoj Tiwari said, “In order to demonstrate faith, he visited a temple during elections. A Hanuman temple of the same faith was demolished and Arvind Kejriwal ji doesn’t make any comments. And his religious committees’ chairman Satyendra Jain sanctioned this activity.”

Congress too was not left behind. On January 12, its Delhi wing tweeted, “Anil Chaudhary head to Lieutenant Governor demanding the restoration of the ancient Hanuman temple.” (archive link)

According to India Legal Live, the decision of the Delhi High Court to remove the Hanuman Temple from Chandni Chowk in Delhi has been challenged in the Supreme Court by Jitendra Singh Vishen through Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain.

Fact-check

This fact check has been divided into four sections. Alt News will establish that AAP, BJP and Congress politicised the court-mandated removal of the Hanuman Temple recognised as encroachment by the Public Works Department (under AAP) and North DMC (under BJP) in 2015.

1. Location verification of the temple

Alt News was able to pin the exact location of the Hanuman Temple on Google Maps based on a source’s intel who did not wish to be named.

They also shared images of the aftermath of the teardown.

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Alt News compared the image on Google Maps and the images by the source and found a visual match.

Based on this verification and our conversations with residents of Chandni Chowk, it is abundantly clear that the hanuman temple is indeed located in the middle of a road.

The Indian Express reported that the temple was demolished on January 3 at 7 am. Additionally, Alt News spoke with the concerned police station’s SHO, a Delhi-based reporter and multiple people in Chandni Chowk — none of them stated that the temple was demolished at midnight, which means that AAP’s claim is false.

On January 6, Delhi-based priest Ashok Kumar told The Print that they want the temple to be rebuilt at the same location. On January 12, Delhi Congress moved a memorandum to the Lieutenant Governor seeking the same. Readers should note that there are multiple Hanuman temples near the demolished temple, as per Google Maps.

2. Media reports on Chandni Chowk redevelopment

The idea to make Chandni Chowk a vehicle-free zone was first floated in a redevelopment plan conceived in 2003-04 by the then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. In 2010, The Hindu reported that the Delhi High Court asked the Delhi government, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Delhi police to constitute a joint Special Task Force (STF) to explore all questions pertaining to traffic in the capital. AAP was still two years away from being formally launched.

As per The Hindu, the task force focused minimising congestion, reducing pollution levels of motor vehicles and ensuring equitable access to all classes of vehicles that ply on the roads, including non-motorised transport such as bicycles and cycle-rickshaws.

Over a decade later, the Delhi government failed to control excessive road traffic and the capital emerged as one of the most post polluted cities in the world. In 2017, The Hindu reported that the North Corporation, PWD, and Delhi Metro couldn’t reach a consensus on many issues including usage of electric buses and whether commercial vehicles should be allowed into Chandni Chowk.

In 2020, The Times of India reported that the delay in the removal of five unauthorised religious structures has caused a derailed the Chandini Chowk pedestrianisation project. Sanjay Bhargav, President, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, told TOI that all illegal structures and encroachments had to be removed for the pedestrianisation project to be successful.

3. Legal context behind Chandni Chowk redevelopment

Alt News reached out to advocate Indira Unninayar as the controversy is related to a writ petition (WP) filed by her client Manushi Sangathan in 2007, an organisation founded by Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Our requests to interview Kishwar were turned down.

Alt News: What was the writ petition about?

Unninayar: The PIL sought realisation and effectuation of the rights of cycle rickshaw/ NMV (Non-Motorized Vehicle) pliers. The petition sought equitable access to road space for them, and it was moved after a ban on cycle rickshaws in Delhi by the then MCD in another case called Hemraj & Ors. It challenged some of the obsolete and arbitrary by-laws of the MCD including one that required the owner of the cycle rickshaw to also be its plier and an arbitrary ceiling of 99,000 on the number of cycle rickshaws in Delhi. There had been a separate municipal order in 2006 banning cycle rickshaws in Chandni Chowk as well, hence that order was challenged too. The matter was filed in 2007 by way of the writ petition WP(C) 4572/2007 which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Over a period of time, an intervenor in the case CCVM (Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal), pressed for the court to focus on Chandni Chowk redevelopment and the case came to be broadly divided into two — the holistic improvements all over Delhi and some specific improvements in Chandni Chowk. The latter came to be known as the Chandni Chowk/ Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Plan.

Alt News: What was the reason behind the delay in the removal of encroachment in Chandni Chowk?

Unninayar: The North DMC contested its responsibility of encroachment removal in April 2015 claiming that it had handed over these roads to the PWD or Delhi Govt. It took the Supreme Court’s confirmation of what the Delhi High Court had already clarified in its order that S 298 of the DMC Act vests streets in the municipality’s care and therefore requires it to remove encroachments. The order clarified that it would, of course, require the cooperation of the Delhi government authorities (meaning the Delhi police). The North DMC continued to evade implementing the order until yet another order was passed by the Delhi High Court in 2019 which too was challenged before the Supreme Court. In October 2020, the Delhi High Court took suo moto case related to the tardiness in the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corpn/ Chandni Chowk Redevelopment. Thus, the delay was the sheer reluctance of the DMC in doing its job. The entire case has witnessed inordinate delays as the government authorities do not see cycle rickshaws, NMVs and equitable access to road space and rights of the poor to share road space equitably as a priority. Even though it is very much a priority in the NUTP (National Urban Transport Policy), Master Plan for Delhi 2021 and the SDG (Street Design Guidelines) 2010, the officials on the ground treat such ideas as unimportant.

Alt News: Why were the religious committee’s alternatives rejected?

Unninayar: GNCTD, through its religious committee, suddenly after four years attempted to retain the Hanuman Temple. The temple had been identified as an encroachment by GNCTD and North DMC. It was rejected by the Delhi High Court because the decision of the religious committee was (1) contrary to earlier High Court orders, (2) not feasible as it would come in the way of orderly implementation of the redevelopment.

Alt News: Who was directed to remove encroachments, including the Hanuman temple, in Chandni Chowk?

Unninayar: The court orders clarified that “the MCD – in the light of Section 299 of the DMC Act is hereby directed to remove the said encroachments by the end of May 2015. Government of NCT of Delhi and the Delhi police shall extend their full cooperation in this regard.” Thus, the responsibility to remove the encroachment was that of the North DMC, and it was clarified that it would receive the necessary cooperation from the Delhi police. This is the support extended to maintain law and order during such encroachment removal actions.

Alt News: AAP MLA Shri Saurabh Bhardwaj stated in a press conference that NGO Manushi Sangathan filed a writ seeking demolition of the temple. Is that true?

Uninayar: The encroachments were identified by the authorities including the North DMC. It is incorrect to say that Manushi Sangathan filed a writ seeking demolition of the temple. It never did that but the case pertained to equitable access to road space for NMVs.

Relevant court orders

Unninayar and her legal team shared the relevant court orders with Alt News that establish —

  1. In 2015, North DMC listed the Hanuman Temple as one of five religious encroachments and was directed by the Delhi High Court to remove all encroachments.
  2. North DMC tried to shift the responsibility to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCT) which was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2018.
  3. In 2019, GNCT changed its stance and put forth alternatives to deal with Hanuman Temple which was rejected by Delhi HC because it increased the encroachment site.
  4. In 2020, the Supreme Court upheld Delhi HC’s order that North DMC has to remove the said encroachments with the full cooperation of the Delhi government and Delhi police.

The following timeline (based on Unninayar’s analysis) lists all crucial details related to the Hanuman Temple controversy along with relevant court orders.

2012

In April 2012, the Supreme Court upheld and the Delhi HC judgement and said, “The Govt. of NCT of Delhi, the MCD, the Delhi Development Authority, the Delhi police, shall constitute a special task force to explore all the questions pertaining to road traffic in Delhi, with the objective of minimizing congestion, reducing pollution levels of motor vehicles, and ensuring equitable access to all classes of vehicles that ply on the roads, including non-motorized transport such as bicycles and cycle rickshaws. The Government of NCT of Delhi shall issue a notification within 6 weeks, for this purpose, and also accord adequate budgetary support for this purpose.”

2015

  • In April 2015, the PWD listed various encroachments in Chandni Chowk including the Hanuman temple. As per the document, GNCTD’s religious committee held a meeting with Deputy Commissioner (Central, Revenue) with respect to discussing issues with local MLA, PWD, and Delhi police to take the final decision on removal/relocation of encroachments.
  • In April 2015, GNCTD updated the Delhi High Court about the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk and encroachment statuses of structures, including five religious structures. None of the authorities appearing before the court disputed that these were encroachments. Delhi HC directed North DMC, the land-owning agency, to remove these encroachments by the end of May 2015.
  • In August 2015, North DMC submitted an application claiming that Chandni Chowk road with encroachments lies under the GNCTD. The Delhi HC rejected this application and directed all authorities including GNCTD to cooperate in the execution of its April 2015 order to remove encroachments.
  • In October 2015, North DMC approached the Supreme Court to challenge Delhi HC order by claiming that the street of Chandni Chowk no longer vests under North DMC but the GNCTD. The apex court ruled against it in 2018.
  • In December 2015, North DMC submitted a status report before Delhi HC regarding encroachment by five religious structures, informing the court that the priest of the temple was contacted for removal of this temple and he has agreed for shifting of this temple if space is provided anywhere else. The North DMC stated that the temple will be removed.

2016

  • In March 2016, North DMC submitted a status report before Delhi HC and listed out dimensions of encroachment by the five religious structures, as found in a survey conducted by North DMC.

2018

  • In May 2018, the SC rejected North DMC’s 2015 order that claimed Chandni Chowk streets do not come under North DMC but GNCTD. The Supreme Court stated that the “responsibility to remove the encroachment is primarily of the Municipal Corporation [North DMC]. However, in such endeavour, [Delhi] Government must extend a support to the corporation”.

2019

  • In November 2019, the religious committee and GNCTD, after discussing two alternatives, was of the view that the temple may be allowed to exist at the present site and the redevelopment plan may be made amalgamating the religious structure only after dismantling the platform/calabura existing around the temple. This was documented in the November 2019 order and was recognised by the High Court as a U-turn by the GNCTD. The Delhi High Court rejected the proposal of the religious committee as it was inconsistent with Supreme Court orders and contrary to earlier High Court orders. The High Court, relying on a report placed before it, concluded that the decision of the religious committee was not feasible and would come in the way of orderly implementation.
  • The above-mentioned Delhi HC order clarified:
  1. Facts about the religious structure: Delhi HC pointed out that the Hanuman Temple is in fact to two temples i.e., a Hanuman temple and a Shiva temple which are back to back over a stretch of around 8m. The order instructed NDMC to remove the said encroachments with the full cooperation of the Delhi government and Delhi police. (para 3)
  2. Hanuman temple to be relocated: The order observed, “The priest of the temple as contacted for removal of this temple has agreed for shifting of this temple if space is provided anywhere else. The temple will be relocated.” It also stated that the Delhi police ACP special branch told that the temple has been in existence since 1974. Thus The Print (based on PTI) misreported that the temple is 100 years old.
  3. High Court on religious committee’s alternatives: DHC stated that these alternatives aren’t feasible propositions. The religious committee without first examining the feasibility of such a proposal went ahead and took this decision unmindful of the previous orders passed by the court and in particular the order of the Supreme Court which issued a very specific mandamus both to the North DMC and the GNCTD. (para 14)

2020

  • In July 2020, the Supreme Court disposed off GNCTD’s SLP clarifying that the primary responsibility to remove encroachments is cast upon the North DMC and the GNCTD shall extend necessary cooperation.
  • In November 2020, Shri Manokamna Siddh Shri Hanuman Seva Samiti sought intervention in WP(C) 4572/2007 and claimed it was entrusted with the upkeep of Hanuman Temple and was aggrieved by the order dated 30.10.2020 issued by North DMC proposing to demolish the temple on 1.11.2020. In view of the Supreme Court Order dated 13.7.2020 passed in SLP(C) 323/2020, the Delhi HC refused to entertain the application of Shri Manokamna Siddh Shri Hanuman Seva Samiti.

Conclusion

The Hanuman Temple — technically two temples (Hanuman temple and Shiva temple) — was one of five religious structures. The encroachments were surveyed by both North DMC (under BJP) and PWD (under AAP) which submitted their respective status report in 2015. In 2016, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North DMC), stated in its status report that the unauthorised Hanuman temple needs to be removed. In April 2015, the Delhi High Court directed North DMC to remove these encroachments as none of the authorities appearing before the court disputed that these were encroachments.

Based on the court orders, it’s evident that the North DMC being the land-owning agency was responsible for the removal of encroachments (including Hanuman temple). After the removal of the unauthorised temple AAP, BJP and Congress politicised the issue by “demanding” re-establishment of the temple which was already ordered by High Court.

In 2018, the Supreme Court stated that the “responsibility to remove the encroachment is primarily of the Municipal Corporation [North DMC]. However, in such endeavour, [Delhi] Government must extend a support to the corporation”. More importantly, none of the government bodies questioned the Hanuman Temple’s encroachment status in court.

Some other misinformation related to the incident include —
1) AAP falsely claimed that the temple was demolished at midnight.
2) AAP MLA Shri Saurabh Bhardwaj falsely stated in a press conference that NGO Manushi Sangathan filed a writ seeking demolition of the temple.
3) The Print publish an erroneous report by PTI that said the Hanuman temple is 100 years old.

Readers should note that this is not the first time such a tiff has happened. Last year in December, The Quint reported that there was a controversy between AAP and North DMC related to renting dues.

4. Demolition video shared with false communal spin

Major Surendra Poonia (Retd) tweeted the video of Hanuman Temple at Chandni Chowk being removed and wrote, “If you have courage, try demolishing a Muslim place of worship place located on Delhi’s street.” This video was viewed over 80,000 times. Poonia also posted this video on Facebook with the same claim.

However, Poonia’s claim is baseless. As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, in 2006 Noor Masjid at Jangpura – B was ordered to be removed by Delhi High Court vide order No. 9358/2006. In 2019, BJP MP Parvesh Verma submitted a list of 54 mosques and graveyards which allegedly existed in an unauthorised manner to Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal.

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About the Author

Archit is a graduate in English Literature from The MS University of Baroda. He also holds a post-graduation diploma in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism. Since then he has worked at Essel Group's English news channel at WION as a trainee journalist, at S3IDF as a fundraising & communications officer and at The Hindu as a reporter. At Alt News, he works as a fact-checking journalist.