As traders across the city drew swords on Friday to assert their rights on their rented shops, another set of people, the property owners, said justice had finally prevailed. Both sides are convinced about their right to the properties.
King without kingdom
“Being owners of age-old commercial properties might sound like a glorious title but it was a bane because you had no power and all the responsibilities,” said advocate Ajay Kalia, who represents Hardev Singh and family, property owners at B-block, Connaught Place.
At B-block, CP Inner Circle, there are shops that earn in millions but pay pittance as rent. “Some pay as low as Rs 60 per month,” he said.
Kalia remembered a time when authorities had asked for damages from the landlords for illegal constructions made by tenants within the premises. “My client got peanuts as rent, and when he approached the tenants to pay for the damages, they refused,” he said.
Several such issues are coming up now that owners feel they stand vindicated. “When business is good, their earnings increase. The value of the properties also get a boost, but the owners never got a chance to cash in on that,” said TR Anand, who owns half of Regal building at Connaught Circus, and other properties across Delhi.
“There is no need to take drastic steps and go for eviction. But the judgment at least gives legal powers to the owners to negotiate, which was missing,” Anand said.
‘We have toiled for our rights’
However, traders said the SC judgment would be detrimental to the interest of those who have inherited the tenancy. “My grandfather paid the pagri — lump sum amount to the original owner in the 1930s in cash, which was equivalent to the market value of the property. The rent was, thus, a token amount. A mere formality,” said Manoj Aggarwal, owner of Mohanlal and Sons, one of the oldest establishments in CP.
While owners like Hardev Singh and Anand said only 10 per cent of the current tenants had paid any pagri, president of New Delhi Traders’ Association Atul Bhargava said, “The traders have worked hard to increase the value of the property. If the owners feel aggrieved, then we must reach a settlement.”
Such is the confusion regarding legality of rights that a few months ago, the owner of the Regal Theatre premises paid his tenant, the operators of the cinema, in crores to reaffirm his rights on the property.
Problem for authorities
This long-standing confusion over rights and responsibilities regarding the properties had been a pain even for civic bodies to implement development projects in the markets.
“Owners always pleaded helplessness saying they did not have possession of the properties. Tenants washed their hands off saying it was the owners’ prerogative,” said Madan Thapliyal, former spokesman of NDMC.
Now, several traders’ forums have decided to team up and meet Minister of State for Urban Development Ajay Maken and Union Minister S Jaipal Reddy to press their demands. But they know that the fight will be tough.