In a parliamentary form of government, the legislature is supreme — it alone has the right to make laws and all that the courts can do is to interpret them. This powerful instrumentality should not be misused to make laws that are against the principles of justice, or make something legal that is patently illegal. In this perspective, Union Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy’s declaration that the government will, if necessary, bring a constitutional amendment to curtail the sealing and demolition drive in the national capital is a matter of some concern. The Constitution is a carefully worked out document, and each amendment should be made with great deliberation and foresight.
Mr Reddy has cited the need to protect the interests of the ‘people’ in bringing about a constitutional amendment. Actually, the interest of the people lies in legislation that provides them living spaces that are clean, affordable and safe, alongside their places of work and leisure. Commercial activity must be seen as the heart of urban life, giving life and soul to a city, rather than be its enemy. In many urban centres across the world, it is not unusual to see commercial establishments and residences side by side. The idea of strict segregation through zoning is a very modern one, to be found in suburban areas built around the automobile. But coexistence should not mean that any kind of commercial activity can be permitted in residential areas, or that urban planning principles are to be dispensed with altogether. There is need for a golden mean that works to the benefit of the people living in cities both as residents and workers.
The problem is that building and habitation laws have been violated in New Delhi for decades, and for this, government bodies — municipal, state and central — must bear a great share of the blame. They have signally failed to provide for adequate commercial space, giving rise to the problem of misuse of residential space. In recent months, the shoddy handling of the problem, compounded by blatant politicking, has generated fear, confusion and anger among sections of the citizenry, leading to avoidable violence. The current situation of urban anarchy cannot be resolved through legal fiat or be handled by agitation and confrontation. It requires a sensitive and humane handling on the part of the government and the courts, as well as an ability to work out a compromise between the need to apply the law, and the manner of its application.