Sealing scare back in Delhi: SC revives panel that sealed thousands of illegal properties
Unauthorised commercial use of residential premises in Delhi would come under the scanner once again with the Supreme Court reviving its monitoring committee that had sealed thousands of such properties a decade ago.
The order comes on a day when the Centre approved a bill that will extend the legal immunity given to unauthorised constructions that have come up in residential and commercial areas of Delhi till June 1, 2014 from getting sealed or demolished for another three years till December 31, 2020.
A bench headed by Justice MB Lokur brushed aside objections raised by the Delhi government and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and recalled its January 2012 order that stopped the committee from sealing premises that were used in contravention of civic laws. This was done with the “hope and expectation” that the authorities would carry out their duties and act against illegal usage.
Two reports by the monitoring committee, highlighting rampant unauthorised constructions in the Capital and misuse of residential properties prompted the court to restore the panel’s powers.
The Delhi government received flak when it tried to oppose the court order. “Do you want to destroy Delhi?” the bench said. “Do you support unauthorised construction,” it added. When the counsel replied in negative the court asked him to file an affidavit on what “effective steps” has the government taken to stop the misuse.
The bench even asked senior advocate Sanjeev Sen, appearing for South Delhi Municipal Coporation (SDMC), to explain how an illegal colony had sprung up in South Delhi, right under the nose of the municipal officers. Sen offered to explain but the court asked him to provide the information in writing.
Sen told the bench that the monitoring committee’s role was limited to misuse and not unauthorised construction. The judges appeared to differ from his stand. So did advocate ADN Rao who is assisting the bench in the case. However, it decided to take up the issue on January 12.
Pleas against sealing
Distressed over the way Delhi has been “ravaged by its own citizens and officials governing the city”, the court also transferred all the cases that were sent to the Delhi High Court through its January 2012 order back to SC. These petitions challenge the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 and also the ordinance the Centre brought in to protect the premises that were getting sealed due to the court order.
“This court has focussed on these illegal activities in several decisions and has issued directions from time to time to try and bring some sanity to urban living but to little or no effect,” the bench said.
Any application requesting de-sealing of the property sealed by the monitoring committee will now be decided by the panel itself, the court said. As per the 2012 order, these applications were sent to MCD tribunal. SC said these applications would be heard subject to the defaulter paying Rs1 lakh as conversion charges.
SC noted the monitoring committee had received 40,814 affidavits when the government enacted the law in May 2006. The applicants had promised to stop the misuse by June 30, 2006. In addition, 5,006 commercial establishments had been sealed by that time. “This gives an indication of the magnitude of misuse of residential premises for commercial purposes in Delhi,” the apex court said.