Sealing drive: Uncertainty looms large at Delhi’s refugee markets
The BJP-led central government had amended the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 to provide relief to hundreds of traders at local shopping complexes (LSCs) from sealing but uncertainty still looms large over the future of refugee markets such as Amar Colony and Meharchand Market.
On March 8 this year, 350 shops at Amar Colony’s double-storey Suit Market, a popular wholesale hub, were sealed on a single day by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) on the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee’s directions. Seven months later, traders relived the horror of sealing as the body ordered the sealing of 30 more shops.
Amar Colony is among the 45 residential neighbourhoods developed for people who migrated during Partition. It has double-storey houses, developed on land provided by the erstwhile Union ministry of rehabilitation on leasehold in 1947. The colony was later transferred to the Land and Development Office (L&DO).
Large parts of the market, which used to be abuzz throughout the year, especially during weddings, are sealed. Traders said they are staring at uncertainty, and their losses are mounting at a time when sales are supposed to soar.
Another shopping joint that was hit was Meharchand Market near Lodhi Colony. It had become a popular hangout with high-end designer stores, restaurants, art stores ,etc. Touted at one point as the next Khan Market, the double-storey market’s transformation story came to an abrupt halt with the sealing drive earlier this year. Now, most designers and stores have moved out.
At Meharchand, where 130 shops were sealed on January 10, the situation is practically the same at Amar Colony. A single-storey market set up after Partition for refugees, over time, shops opened in basements and upper floors.
While a few shopkeepers adjusted their stock in the remaining (ground floor) portions that were not sealed, others have put up boards displaying their new addresses. To ensure empty and sealed shops do not give a poor impression, a few traders have even covered sealed staircases and entrances to basements with decorative wooden pieces, banners, paintings or carpets.
“We are losing our customers. I don’t know if things are ever going to get normal again. Most designer brands have shifted. The market association has been pursuing the civic agency for years to regularise the market’s layout plan,” said Pawan Gupta, a shopkeeper.
Meharchand Market Traders’ Association president Ashok Sakhuja, however, said the market was later converted into a local shopping complex by the authorities and so they are eligible for relief under the new guidelines.
“The shopkeepers want to legalise these shops and clearance of the market’s redevelopment plan, but we are implementing agency and can’t do something not permissible or mentioned in the master plan. We sent a proposal to redevelop and regularise Meharchand Market to the DDA,” said a senior SDMC official.
Referring to Amar Colony, SDMC officials said that over the years, people started commercial activities in the residential colony illegally. “People started commercial activities on the ground floor, made extensions on the ground and upper floors and encroached public land. Common spaces (including public conveniences) in the front as well as rear ,which were meant for pedestrian movement ended up getting occupied. Also, almost each household encroached on at least 25-30-foot of public land,” said a SDMC official.
Traders at Amar Colony ask why the shops were sealed now when the market was allowed to run for years. Traders claim they paid use conversion (even for the extensions ) and parking charges to the civic body.
Vijay Taneja, president of the traders’ association, said, “We have paid conversion and parking charges. Why did the MCD accept the money if we were encroaching on public land? Now, despite us offering to pay the ‘misuse’ penalty, the monitoring committee and L&DO officials are not ready to hear us out,” he said. Taneja’s shop was sealed in March.
A senior SDMC official said conversion and parking charges are submitted on a self-assessment basis and not on MCD’s demand. “We don’t have the manpower to verify the encroachments or if the amounts submitted by owners are genuine for each property,” the official said.
Traders say the road on which shops are located is notified for mixed land use in the Master Plan-2021 and commercial activities are allowed on such stretches.
“Our shops were closed for not having approved building plans. This is not our fault. Why did the MCD officials not tell us to get building plans sanctioned?” said Manjeet Singh Kohli, general secretary of double-storey market, Amar Colony.
No respite in sight
As a result, there is an impasse with shop owners saying they have paid conversion charges, and the MCD saying that merely submitting conversion charges does give them a right to encroach on public land.
SDMC officials say shop owners here have not just changed the land but also encroached on a massive scale, horizontally and vertically. “MCD has no power to regularise encroachment on public land,” said the official.
AAP MLA from Amar Colony and Meharchand Market, Madan Lal, accused the Centre of delaying the matter. “Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal asked the Centre for an ordinance or scheme to provide relief to shopkeepers in refugee colonies. But nothing happened. The government is only concerned about traders in LSCs,” he said.
A member of the SC body said action would be taken against violators in other refugee colonies as well. “We have shared a list of 11,000 residential properties constructed by agencies and later misused for commercial purposes or encroachment with the apex court,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
SDMC mayor Narendra Chawla said the civic agency had a conducted meetings with the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs and officials of L&DO to figure out a way for refugee markets. “Since these are old markets, it won’t be possible to demolish or seal shops. We studied their layout plans, changes made and urged L&DO to come out with a scheme. But in Amar Colony, it would be difficult to legalise encroachments at public conveniences,” Chawla said.