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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

One year of sealing drive in Delhi: Traders ‘want to get back to business’

There is ambiguity over the MPD-2021 amendments. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and civic agencies say properties can be regularised based on the amendments. Committee members say the matter is subjudice.

delhi Updated: Dec 17, 2018 12:39 IST
Vibha Sharma
Vibha Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Traders in Delhi say the government should come out with an ‘amnesty policy’, giving them time to  make changes as per the new amendment.
Traders in Delhi say the government should come out with an ‘amnesty policy’, giving them time to make changes as per the new amendment. (HT File )
         

Jayram Banan (62) is a distraught man these days. Owner of Swagath restaurant in the upscale Defence Colony Market in south Delhi, he is struggling to keep his business afloat. A year ago, on December 21, two floors and the basement of his three-storeyed restaurant were sealed on the orders of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee for “land use violations”.

The top court had revived the committee last year to crack the whip on unauthorised construction.

For the past year, Banan is running from pillar to post to get his property de-sealed. “Despite paying Rs1.28 crore (as regularisation charges for two restaurants), the monitoring committee has rejected our de-sealing application,” said Banan, who also owns a branch of the Sagar Ratna chain of restaurants in the market.

With business badly affected, no clarity on the de-sealing process and increasing expenses, quite a few traders like him were forced to sack their staff.

“Business is down to 30%. I have no option but to lay off some of the staff. What can I do?” Banan said.

Hargurdev Singh, owner of Capri Italy, is sitting at home ever since his restaurant was sealed.

“Adding to our woes are expenditures in the form of excise duty, commercial tax and electricity bills. I had to pay Rs 8.25 lakh to the excise department in 2018-19 for the sealed restaurant as officials refused to give us any relief,” Singh said.

Banan and Singh are among the 86 traders whose shops were sealed by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) on the monitoring committee’s orders in December 2017.

The market is now almost deserted . For the second time in a row, the popular market—known for its restaurants and one of Delhi’s key party spots — will be closed for year-end celebrations.

The sealing drive has left people struggling to keep business going.

The story is similar in Hauz Khas, Green Park and other markets in South and north Delhi where over 1,500 shops have been sealed in local shopping centres (LSCs) for land misuse.

MPD amended but no relief

To provide relief to lakhs of traders, the Union housing and urban affairs ministry had notified amendments in the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 in June this year, allowing a floor area ratio (FAR) of 350 —earlier LSCs were allowed 180-225 FAR --- and the use of basement for commercial activities.

It slashed the ‘use conversion charge’ (a levy paid to the civic body for using a residential building for commercial purposes) from Rs 89,000 per sq.m to Rs 22, 274 per sq.m.

“The amendments in MPD had given us hope. But the happiness didn’t last for long as the SC-body refused to de-seal properties,” said Vinod Aggarwal, a shopkeeper whose property at Hauz Khas market was sealed.

In October, the BJP-led north and south corporations issued guidelines, based on the amendments, to regularise commercial units in LSCs. But none of the commercial units have either been regularised or de-sealed.

A few Defence Colony traders had also unsuccessfully approached the SC committee to “temporarily de-seal” the properties.

Ambiguity over amendments

There is ambiguity over the MPD-2021 amendments. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and civic agencies say properties can be regularised based on the amendments. Committee members say the matter is subjudice.

Jagdish Gupta, a shopkeeper from market said, “The committee rejected the files. The members said the shop will be de-sealed only when FAR of 180 to 225 is maintained and conversion charges are paid. How can we bring the FAR to 180? What is the significance of MPD amendment?”

A member of the monitoring committee countered, “We will not entertain any request to de-seal properties until all norms — including providing parking facility, fire safety and stability of building — are followed.”

Questioning the guidelines issued by the south corporation for the regularisation of LSCs , the committee member said, “Though the apex court has not stayed amendments in the master plan, the matter is subjudice...How can civic agencies initiate the process to provide relief to shopkeepers? The civic agency has not taken consent from us before issuing such circulars.”

Caught between the agencies and the committee, traders say they just want to get back to business.

Harsh Bansal (28) has no option but to run his business from the steps in front of his sealed shop in the Defence Colony market.

“I have been in the stationary business for five years and my sales has come down to 10%. The only reason why I am here is I don’t want to lose my regular customers. We want the matter to get resolved,” said Bansal.

The properties have been locked for nearly a year now. Traders say they will have to spend on refurbishing the place once it is de-sealed.

Aryan Singh, co-owner of Jugaad Café and Bar, had renovated the interiors a few months before the sealing drive. “As the complex is sealed for the past one year, I would need to spend a lot to refurbish it again,” he said.

Traders demand amnesty

Traders have demanded clarity on the law and want the process to be expedited.

Vijay Israni, vice-president of the Green Park market, said, “It won’t be possible to demolish all buildings and bring them back to 180 FAR. The government should come out with an ‘amnesty policy’, giving time to traders to make changes in their premises as per the new amendment.”

SDMC mayor Narenda Chawla admits lack of clarity on the matter but says they are helpless. “But from our side, we are providing all possible help to shop owners. The regularisation policy is aimed at giving a chance to all (including the shops that are not sealed so far) to save the establishments from sealing.”

Traders say the entire exercise to amend the MPD, which began in January this year, has failed to yield any result.

They have little option but to wait and watch.