"Removal of encroachments of structures of different religions-Maintaining communal harmony".
Office of District Magistrate, Jabalpur

The Problem

Encroachments on public roads and lands have been the bane of Indian society. We might have witnessed a paradigm shift in the development philosophy and have built state of art buildings, but we have not been able to remove omnipresent encroachments on community lands. Removal of encroachments of religious nature is all the more difficult and therefore, they not only have survived all odds and all anti encroachment drives, but have rather proliferated all across and in all conceivable places. It requires a small quantity of vermilion color paint to make Hindu deity and a splash of green color to mark the presence of Muslim faithful. Citizens have not liked it, nor did the administrators, yet, to think of their removal have become unthinkable. Efforts have been made in certain places to get rid of them and there are few successful instances also, but they are far and few. Often, even these solitary efforts are opposed with violent reactions from the sections of society.

Over the years this problem has got multiplied because of several factors including administrative apathy. Every citizen who uses these community lands and roads had to undergo hardships irrespective of any strata and community that they belong to. This had also hindered the progress and future development of the district. Authorities were at loss to devise ways of removal of these religious encroachments and to reclaim land under encroachment. This problem is not limited to any locality or town but this mentality has transcended to whole nation so much so that the Supreme Court of India in one of the recent interim judgment have chastised State governments to take all measures to prevent misuse of government and community lands in the garb of Religious structures.

Besides misuse of valuable government land, traffic congestions, unnecessary delays, accidents and increased pollution have compounded the problem. Since no action was done against the encroachers there is increased tendency of encroachments on available government land. During festivals and important celebrations these places are the places where civic rules are broken with impunity and citizens are put to lot of inconvenience

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
It is hard to mention the quantitative achievements as it is more of a social issue than the economic or financial one. However, a total of 359 religious encroachments (including temples, mosques, churches, cremation
and burial grounds) on the government land were removed during a period of 2 1/2 years with the involvement of community and all stakeholders, while maintaining communal harmony and peace in the district. A conservative estimate, based on government rates for property, has put the valuation of reclaimed land as 20 million US$.

District authorities in Jabalpur ensured transparent and uniform removal of religious encroachments of all faiths that were falling on the government land. It was so well managed, that not only debris got removed from the site immediately, but also the development work commenced the next day. These places were then developed as parking lots, market places giving no opportunity to citizens to complain against the drive; rather having observed the positive outcome they then acted as pressure groups for the future removal of structures. This changed the outlook of common citizen towards the officials and has ensured that district authorities got whole hearted support even in their other efforts.

Successful removal of these encroachments amply highlights that if citizens are taken into confidence and impartial and transparent mechanisms are devised to find solution then even as complicated an issue as removal of religious encroachments looks simple. Qualitatively, every other official who were involved in this endeavour came out more confident about his/her capabilities and had a sense of achievement. This has lead to increased commitment and dedication towards the development of the town.

This initiative was assessed by senior civil servants of the state, independent press and media, by the officials of Administrative Staff College of India and Department of Administrative Reforms, Public Grievance under the ministry of Personnel & Training, Govt. of India. Later, it bagged state’s highest award for Excellence in Administration (2009) and Nation’s highest civil services award namely Prime Ministers Award for Excellence in Public Administration.(2010)

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The nominee was the District Magistrate of district Jabalpur, in Central India in state of Madhya Pradesh. The district had a population of 2.5 million, representing various faiths and religion. District Magistrate (DM) is the highest civil servant of the district who is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the various government departments and developmental agencies including Municipal Corporation. DM is also responsible for the law and order situation in the district, coordinates with police and other government agencies to ensure the implementation of government policies. The nominee during the tenure of 2 1/2 years have tried to involve every stakeholder including different institutions/organizations and citizens in the endeavour of removal of religious structures.

Since there were no precedence of this kind and scale in India, it was evolving process where at every stage, citizens were taken into confidence and government machinery was involved. Elected representatives were duly briefed and their cooperation solicited. Environment building was done with the help of NGOs, citizens and various social forums, while a crack team of Police authorities, Municipal Corporation and Revenue authorities was formed to analyze the circumstances pertaining to each and every site. In short, it was a team effort under the leadership of Nominee who planned, guided, executed and took upon himself for any adverse consequences.

In all, there were 529 such religious structures which were categorized into illegal encroachments by detailed survey consisting of a team of officers along with the details of year of construction, the assessment of property, its followers and the care takers.

Under the leadership of Sanjay Dubey, IAS (the District Magistrate & nominee), following officers played key role in the drive. Superintendent of Police Shri Makrand Deoskar & Shri Srinivas Rao, Additional Superintendent of Police Shri Manohar Verma, Municipal Commissioner Shri O.P Shrivastav and Additional District Magistrate Shri Mahesh Chaudhary, Shri Deepak Singh, Revenue officer Mr Rajesh Srivastav with Municipal Corporation officials Shri Rakesh Ayachi and Shri Usman Khan. In addition to it, a group of 10 more officials had played an important role in the drive. A team of all these officials have actually planned and implemented the initiative to the satisfaction of citizens, elected representatives and the state government.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Objective of the drive was to recover valuable government land under encroachment, discourage the tendency of doing encroachment in the garb of religious places and finally to facilitate the developmental works in the town.

1) Giving voice to silent majority.

In issues related to religious sentiments, citizens generally remain noncommittal as they do not want to sound nonreligious & silently bear the brunt. To bring this issue to the forefront and to assess the reaction of citizen a deliberate attempt was made to create public spat between D.M & Mayor about removal of encroachments. Reports were leaked to media that there was difference of opinion between two authorities on the usage of town development funds under centrally sponsored JNNURM scheme because of religious encroachments. Media lapped up the issue of differences between the two important functionaries of the district on removal of encroachments and soon it became the talk of the town.

2) Organizing Peace Committee Meetings.

Jabalpur has a fairly established practice of organizing peace committee meetings prior to any major festival. It is an informal organization of political executives, local leaders and respectable citizen practicing different religions and representing all walks of life. It is presumed that committee members exercise control over their communities, groups, associations and ‘constituencies’.
3) Individual persuasion- a personal touch

Important stakeholders like elected representatives, Ministers, Religious gurus were briefed. Their concern of religious backlash and reservations about the drive were addressed in personal one to one meetings. They were convinced about the need and positive outcomes of these efforts. Some of them agreed reluctantly and some of them who did not agree were told in unambiguous words that district administration is committed to go ahead.
4) Well prepared team

After the initial resistance was tactfully diluted, large-scale preparations were done to demolish religious structures. Additional Police force from local police stations were called, Executive Magistrates and police officials were duly briefed to show restraint in all the circumstances. Deployment of forces in the sensitive areas was done to avert any violent reactions during or after demolitions.
The day was chosen such as to avoid religious festivals or VVIP tours. Political executives of the district were politely requested to be out on tour on the day of demolition to avoid any embarrassment

5) Demolition become gradual process

Demolition of religious structures in Jabalpur was not done in haste. Each time a road was identified for development, all the religious structure falling on it was listed and negotiations followed. The negotiations were done at least at three levels, so as to address all the reservations regarding the selection, process and timings of demolitions. For every drive the assessment of man, material and machinery was done de-novo and land reclaimed from demolition was immediately taken up for development.

6) Respect & sanctity was maintained during demolition

Regular priests and maulvis were persuaded to conduct ‘puja’ and recite ‘fatia’ before demolitions. The idols or majars were then removed in respectful manner. Once the deity is shifted, the structures were pulled down.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
b) Key development.
Before embarking on any such initiative one has to be aware of the size and complications in the issue, so a detailed survey of these encroachments was planned and got conducted by a team of officials comprising of representatives from Revenue, Police & Municipal Corporation. This was done to identify the year of construction, number of followers, assessment of land under encroachment and also to analyze the kind of reaction that may come once the demolition drive is initiated.

The sympathizers, supporters and caretakers of these religious places are the ones who can create a law and order situation during removal of these structures and therefore they were needed to be identified, their antecedents checked and based on their activities they were neutralized using the policy of carrot and stick.

District authorities involved citizens and used all formal, informal forums like peace committees, traffic safety week and public gatherings to make them aware of nuisance created by these encroachments and how they were inimical to life and property.

Having built the citizens pressure for the removal of these encroachments, elected representatives was approached for soliciting their support. The strategies, precautions taken and D- day preparations were shared with them. Realizing that they have no other option but to support it, they also promised not to interfere in the endeavor.

Every time a new road was selected for widening and development, all the structures that fell on this road irrespective of religion were identified and there caretakers engaged in negotiations. There landownership issues and other documents were verified to ensure that administration did not err on legal issues. An assessment about the possible reactions was done and then only encroachments were demolished, while maintaining respect and sanctity of religious faith. The campaign was so planned that, it became a gradual exercise and it gave sufficient time to administration to address all the issues pertaining to the sites before the demolition.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Most of the best intentioned effort in government remain unsuccessful and could not see the light of the day because of lack of communication among various stakeholders and clear understanding of issues. Thus it was imperative to initiate dialogue with all stake holders to avoid any misgivings and unnecessary rumor mongering.
Sometimes even best of efforts gets frustrated as individual goals are at variance with the organization goals and stated objectives are different from the hidden agenda making it difficult to comprehend the real intention of stakeholders. Thus very trusted people were deployed for intelligence gathering to get to the actual thought process of these people.
Finally, religious sentiments along with economic considerations make it all the more difficult to disentangle these ticklish issues. At times common man oblivious of these facts and background is swayed away by rhetoric and slogans by interest groups that are used to further their own cause. Therefore, it was decided to expose these nefarious elements from the society and those behind these encroachments to minimize the citizen support to them during demolition.

Since there were no precedence of that kind, therefore there were no standard procedure or protocol to follow, the whole exercise was undertaken very cautiously in ‘do it yourself' (DIY) mode. Learning from mistakes and moving ahead became the byword under the leadership of nominee and team continued to pursue the matter with sustained zeal and commitment.

The officials themselves were afraid that they might invite the wrath of deity if they do this 'unholy' act of demolition of these religious places. Not only they but there family members were also skeptical about the drive as they feared that they will be antagonizing the persons behind the encroachments. Motivation and sense of duty was to be instilled in them to allay their fears.

In between some of these interested individuals & groups tried to scuttle the process by seeking stay orders from Honorable Civil & High Courts, but there also cases were defended by the team of officials with zeal and enthusiasm to prevent any such situations of getting stay against the proceedings of District Administration.

Finally Police was told to remain prepared for any eventuality, so that any untoward happening can be nipped in the bud. Municipal Corporation was convinced and instructed for undertaking development works from the very next day so as to leave no trace of religious encroachments in the place.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Except the manpower & machinery that is generally deployed in city's anti-encroachment drive no special machinery or resources were used. The drive was taken up very cautiously while showing maximum restraint. Police deployment was done in areas involving mixed communities, wrongdoers and habitual offenders were rounded up before the eve of demolition, so that they may not take the advantage of situation to flare up communal tension.

The development work and plan of reclaimed land was prepared & sanctioned well in advance so that soon after the removal of the encroachments, it could be taken up and no trace of religious place (debris) was left to foment the communal feelings.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
In the span of 2-1/2 year (i.e from September 2005 to June 2008), 359 religious places of all faith have been removed, without creating communal or law and order situation. This drive is still continuing (though at slower pace) thereby achieving removal of 395 religious places. The deaths and injuries, that were so common on the main roads with in the town has come down substantially. This has also ensured that now the administration does not have to bother for protection of these places during communal situations, relieving the police force for actual law & order duties. The initiation and completion of development works under schemes like JNNURM became easy to implement. Finally, successful removal has emboldened spirits and morale of all the officials involved in the drive, while disheartened those, who were in the business of encroaching the prime land by exploiting religious sentiments of gullible citizens.

State Government and National Government recognized the unique initiative and awarded the nominee with Chief Minister's Excellence Award 2009 & with Prime Minister's Excellence Award in Public Administration in the year 2010, respectively.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The act of removal of religious places required exemplary leadership in consensus building, using skills of persuasion, reason and deployment of age old tactics of ‘SAM’, ‘DAM’, ‘DAND’ and ‘BHED’. DM convinced all stake holders viz, local elected representatives, religious gurus, priests, citizens etc. to support the drive. It was a yeoman’s task to motivate government employees including their families, that there is nothing unholy in doing ones duty in demolition of religious places; rather, it is part of their moral
responsibility to participate in it. Close coordination and deft handling of issues between Police, Municipal Corporation, Revenue authorities besides defending umpteen number of court cases, that were filed by priests & local leaders to scuttle the demolition process made it look simple.

District authorities ensured transparent and uniform removal of religious encroachments of all faiths that were falling on the government land. It was also so well managed, that not only debris got removed from the site immediately, but also the development work commenced the next day. This gave no opportunity to citizens to complain against the drive; rather they then acted as pressure groups for the future removal of structures.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Office of District Magistrate, Jabalpur
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Sanjay Dubey
Title:   District Magistrate(DM)  
Telephone/ Fax:   +91-755-2572207, +91-755-2431171
Institution's / Project's Website:   +91-755-2573396
E-mail:   sanrachna@hotmail.com  
Address:   E/8/15, Char Imli
Postal Code:   462016
City:   Bhopal
State/Province:   Madhya Pradesh
Country:   India

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