The Supreme Court’s latest rebuke of the Delhi government’s ‘inability’ to follow the court’s order to seal illegal shops may have finally forced the latter’s hand, but it still has not solved the problem. Last week, we had commented on the manner in which political parties were using the sealing issue for their own purposes. Letting mobs lay siege to parts of the city was a dereliction of duty on the part of the State. The fact that illegal shops were allowed to sprout across Delhi over the decades is well-known. The law was broken, but in partnership with the very authorities which are now going to patch up the law by sealing illegal shops. The Supreme Court has, unsurprisingly, acted against the illegality involved. And yet, the fate of thousands of traders and their labour force is left hanging.
The apex court needs to inject a humanitarian view in its approach to the MCD sealing drive. It has caught the authorities peddling the oldest ruse in the book: that they can do nothing in the face of popular protest. Doing nothing, thanks to the Supreme Court's observation on Monday, is no longer an option. But, at the same time, ‘doing something’ should not be limited to shutting illegal shops that have been ‘legalised’ down the years. Even if we agree with the court’s observations that “by putting a dagger on the throat of someone”, laws cannot be flouted — and we do strongly agree with the court on this count — cutting off a large number of people from their livelihood and letting them fend for themselves is a dangerous way of imposing law and order.
The earlier demand of the traders to postpone the sealing drive to January 2007 so that they could utilise the time to seek alternatives has turned into a demand for no sealing at all. Upping the ante, they even suggested that the Constitution itself be amended to ‘accommodate’ their demands. The government now needs to tell the traders that they must comply with the apex court orders while they seek a way out. But this can be done only if the traders, on their part, are reasonable and abjure threats and violence. Perhaps, only then will the apex court be inclined to revisit an issue that also involves inadvertent victims of decades-old governmental mismanagement.