The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the central government on a law that seeks to give a one-year moratorium against demolition and sealing of commercial establishments in residential areas in the national capital.
Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, when told by Solicitor General GE Vahanvati that the Parliament had unanimously passed the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, quipped: "We are not concerned about unanimity. What was the Parliament doing for 20 years on this issue? Was it sleeping? We are more concerned about maintaining the sanctity of our judgments and the rule of law. Can you take shelter under the guise of people's interest to violate the law."
Expressing his concern, Justice Sabharwal said: "We talk of making this nation a developed country. We are talking of good governance. Is this the way to do it."
Earlier, the apex court admitted a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law by the Delhi Welfare Residents' Association Joint Front (DWRAJF) and an NGO, Citizens Voice. The petitioners assailed the law on the ground that the Parliament had passed the legislation to give benefit to the land mafia and violators of law as well as encroachers on public land at the cost of law-abiding citizens.
The Act seeks to maintain status quo as on Jan 1, 2006, on demolition of unauthorised and illegal constructions as well as sealing of premises.
A bench of Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, Justice CK Thakker and Justice PK Balsubramanyan told Vahanvati that "prima facie this type of statute has been passed only in this nation by which all the orders of the courts and laws being obeyed by the citizens are suspended. You want to act as an appellate authority for all the courts, whether it is the lower court, the Delhi High Court or this court."
The Chief Justice told Vahanvati: "you have granted exemption for one year. You can go on extending it for 20 years. Tell us, what is the message the Parliament wants to give."
Vahanvati replied that the Parliament had recognised the fact that the problem of improper planning existed for two decades and that was the reason this law was enacted to address the various issues.
Justice Sabharwal's criticism of the government came at this point when Vahanvati said that the law had been passed unanimously by the Parliament.
Sending a clear message that this act would not stand legal scrutiny, the Chief Justice said: "The only question now is what is the interim order to be passed. We are not inclined to say no stay or a complete stay. We are for a middle path. We want to give you some protection from demolition to certain categories of buildings. You tell us which of those categories need such protection."
The solicitor general said he needed time to take instructions.
In its brief order, the bench said: "We are of the view that many serious questions of law are sought to be raised which require deeper consideration and elaborate submissions. In this view we admit the petitions."
On the question of interim order, the bench granted time till Aug 10 to the government to come out with suggestions as to how such protection could be given.
The legislation was formulated in the wake of a mega demolition drive undertaken by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on the apex court's directive.
The civic body had partially demolished nearly 2,000 illegal structures and commercial complexes in residential areas and sealed over 13,000 such premises.