DELHI TURNED into a battlefield on Wednesday as traders -- observing a daylong strike to protest against the MCD's sealing drive -- clashed with police in several areas. A police spokesman confirmed at least three deaths -- including that of two children -- in Seelampur area of north-east Delhi. He said one person died in police firing and they were investigating the other deaths. Over 100 others were injured in the clashes.
Ordered by the Supreme Court last year and executed by the municipal body, the sealing drive -- to remove shops from residential areas -- had met with stiff resistance from traders. Though the government had tried to save the majority of the traders by redefining certain roads in residential areas as commercial, the court's Monitoring Committee did not recognise the move and asked the MCD to proceed with the sealing drive.
On Wednesday evening, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said, "Making law is the prerogative of the government and not the court's." He said a special session of Parliament would be convened if needed and "if required, we will amend the Constitution". The remarks came ahead of Monday's hearing of the case in the court.
Earlier in the day, protesters brought the city to a standstill as they pelted stones at buses -- 10 of them belonging to the DTC -- and other vehicles, causing huge traffic snarls. Metro trains were also targeted. This led to clashes with police who resorted to firing teargas.
In Seelampur, 30 policemen -- including Deputy Commissioner of Police Devesh Shrivastav -- were injured in the clashes. Delhi Police spokesman Deepender Pathak said they resorted to firing after teargas failed to control the crowd. A rickshawpuller was among those killed.
This was the first time in 14 years that police opened fire to control rioters. In December 1992, during disturbances following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, police had opened fire on a crowd -- again in Seelampur. Stone-pelting incidents were also reported from Kotla Mubarakpur, Yusuf Sarai, Hauz Khas, Khajoori Khas, New Ashok Nagar, Shakarpur, Madhuban Chowk, Mayur Vihar, Lakshmi Nagar, Ashram, Mayapuri, Dabri and Dwarka.
Pathak said police would remain on high alert on Thursday. "Violence cannot be ruled out," he said. Late on Wednesday, violence erupted in Maujpur and Vijay Park areas of northeast Delhi as protesters set a bus on fire. Police forces were sent to bring the situation under control.
For Thursday, several schools have asked parents not to send their children to school if they anticipate trouble. "Drivers have been instructed to
bring children back to school if they cannot reach home,” said Shayama Chona, principal DPS RK Puram. No student was injured in Wednesday’s violence. In Dwarka, protesters asked students to step out of a bus before they damaged it. Most city markets – including Chandni Chowk, Kamla Nagar, Karol Bagh, Greater Kailash and Green Park — remained closed.
According to the VAT department, the strike caused a loss of about Rs 450 crore, which included taxed and non-taxed transactions. Delhi Finance Minister A.K. Walia said the loss to the exchequer was still to be worked out. “Traders in the VAT net have an average retail transaction of Rs 225 crore. The retail transaction for those outside it is also substantial,” he said.