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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

A year later, Delhi’s traders still stuck in sealing chaos

Eleven years ago, Delhi first witnessed large-scale sealing and demolition when more than 5,000 properties were locked down in 2006.

delhi Updated: Dec 17, 2018 12:25 IST
Risha Chitlangia and Vibha Sharma
Risha Chitlangia and Vibha Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A sealed door seen after a sealing drive at Defence colony market, in New Delhi,
A sealed door seen after a sealing drive at Defence colony market, in New Delhi, (Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

Delhi’s sealing drive, which has been haunting the Capital’s trader community like an albatross around the neck, completes a year. It’s been a year of uncertainty, suspense and downturn for the traders, who have been hit hard by the crackdown on ‘land use violations’ by a panel mandated by India’s top court.

It all started in December 17 last year, when nine properties in South Delhi’s Chhattarpur area were sealed on the directions of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee formed to check unauthorised constructions in the city.

The panel, first appointed in 2006, was revived by the apex court last year.

Since then, over 6,500 properties were sealed across Delhi — including upscale markets in south Delhi’s Defence Colony, Amar Colony, Chhattarpur, Meharchand Market — for land misuse, unauthorised construction and encroachment, by the civic bodies, on the committee’s directions.

In Defence Colony, 51 commercial units were sealed on December 21.

Such crackdowns are not new to Delhi. Eleven years ago, the capital first witnessed large-scale sealing and demolition when more than 5,000 properties were locked down in 2006.

Sealing at that time stopped after the Centre enacted the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006, to provide protection to lakhs of properties.

Subsequently, in 2012, the court also stopped the committee from sealing premises. But two of its reports highlighting rampant unauthorised constructions and misuse of residential properties prompted the court to again restore the panel’s powers on December 15, 2017. And this time, there seems to be no respite in sight, at least so far.

Traders say this is as bad as what happened in 2006 because the committee is refusing to accept amendments made in the master plan, saying the matter is sub judice.

Praveen Khandelwal, president of the Confederation of All India Traders, said: “The situation is as worse as it was in 2006. The master plan, which was notified 11 years ago and will expire in 2021, is still under scrutiny. This shows there is something wrong with planning. Traders continue to face the problems they faced way back in 2006. There is a need for permanent solutions. The government should come out with a cutoff date to allow traders to regularise their properties.”

Though the Central government-controlled Delhi Development Authority (DDA) amended provisions of the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 (MPD-2021) in a bid to provide relief to traders, it has not worked out as envisaged.

In June this year, the Centre notified two changes in MPD-2021: relaxation in norms for local shopping centres and godowns (warehouse) in non-conforming areas (agricultural land).

But more than 1,500 shops in south and north Delhi and marble godowns in Chhattarpur are still lying sealed as the committee has refused to budge.

The DDA and the civic agencies say shops can be regularised as per the new amendments and de-sealed but members of the committee differ, saying the matter is “sub-judice”.

Traders have stepped up their demand for an ordinance, similar to the Act introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre in 2006 to stop sealing.

In 2007, Parliament passed the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act as a need was felt that more time would be required to put policies in place to regulate unauthorised developments.

Since then, the Centre had been extending it annually. In 2011, it was extended for three years. And then again in 2014 and 2017, for three years each.

The validity of Act is now being considered by the apex court.

SDMC mayor Narenda Chawla admits lack of clarity, but says they are helpless. “We are providing all help to shop owners. The regularisation policy is aimed at giving a chance to all (including shops not sealed so far) to save their establishments from sealing action.”

The matter also assumed a political dimension with the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections—using sealing to target the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which is in power at the Centre and in Delhi’s three municipal corporations.

Citing demonetisation, GST and sealing to highlight the “anti-trader” policies of the ruling party at the Centre, both AAP and Congress have been trying to reach out to the traders—a traditional vote bank of the BJP.

The BJP is also finding it hard to keep the traders in good books in the wake of the drive amid the growing pressure for an ordinance.

“The Centre must step in now, as traders are bleeding,” said Parmanand Malani, a trader at Chattarpur.

Urban planners say violation of mixed land use provisions, introduced for the first time in 2006, is one of the main reasons for the mess.

Shamsher Singh, former chief town planner of the erstwhile municipal corporation of Delhi, said, “The mixed land use provisions were introduced to provide relief to traders who were facing sealing threat. But over the years, the provision has been violated and relaxed to benefit traders. There is a need to re-look at it.”