Coinciding with daybreak on Monday, a team of 150 workers armed with steel rods, cutters and hammers — backed by cranes and heavy machinery — descended on Sector 17. Minutes later, by 6am, after a briefing that did not seem to have had much effect eventually, the team started an operation that was dubbed as “utter mayhem” by the traders and those watching.
It was meant to be a planned drive under the Sector-17 rejuvenation project, to remove haphazard display boards, loose wires, air-conditioner compressors and other such paraphernalia from the façade of one lane of 51 showrooms in Sector 17E. Legally, the drive appeared sound as bylaws have been violated with impunity in the market.
Fallout of Building bylaws' violations: Admn fails to lead by example
But with the traders mostly sleeping at home or busy in morning workouts — even though the operation was slated for “anytime after the deadline of May 30”, according to officials — even the glass facades of locked upper floors were broken open, using stones even, to make way for three-foot deep balconies that were part of the original structure. Reasons cited were the bylaws, ‘heritage’ aesthetics and also fire safety.
Advertising boards that were even a couple of inches above or below the specifications, as were shared with the traders in several meetings, were pulled down. In the process, some boards that were verbally approved by the estate office and municipal corporation team in April were brought down or damaged.
“I was told the board was fine and exactly 4 feet and a half high as per norms; it needed no modification,” said a jewellery trader, refusing to be named fearing further action, “But, after I reached the place around 10am upon getting a WhatsApp group message, I saw a machine already pulling it down. By the time I could run to the officials, the machine had done its job! The board had cost me nearly `1.5 lakh.”
ALSO READ: Electricity and telephone wires snapped
Telephone wires and power cord extensions for external lights were broken too. Phones and card-swiping machines stopped working and the electricity too was shut down at least till 2pm. Later, in the evening there was a power cut for maintenance, making things worse.
Decision taken at meet with adviser
The rejuvenation plan had been mooted by the UT adviser Vijay Kumar Dev early this year soon after he joined. The first deadline for the entire sector to follow the bylaws was April 30, but as the deputy commissioner convened meetings only in the second and third weeks of the month, the traders were given more time. Later the 17E, brick-facade lane — on both sides of Neelam Theatre and in front of Kapsons showroom — was picked as a pilot. An inspection was carried out on April 27 too, when traders were told about the specifications. Yet, technicalities were not quite understood.
Shops in lane remained shut
The entire lane — which is only about 10% of the sector and was picked as pilot project for the larger rejuvenation plan — had its shutters down the entire day. Only a part of the rest of the market closed for some hours, though the solidarity bandh was not complete. A strike was called for Tuesday, though, after a meeting of all three traders’ associations in the sector.
ALSO READ: BJP, Cong condemn drive
Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), central, Prince Dhawan, who led Monday’s drive and also heads the group for the overall rejuvenation project, said, “We had already shared the norms, extended the deadline from April 30 to May 30; even last week, led by the deputy commissioner, we had visited the area and met traders, giving them some more time.” “Before this drive, we had issued notices on Friday and Saturday too,” the SDM claimed, which the traders disputed.