Squatters return to settlements as Delhi anti-encroachment drive lacks teeth

Six days after a special task force launched an anti-encroachment drive across Delhi following Supreme Court directions, HT revisited five spots and found squatters were back in business.
Delhi civic officials carry out an anti-encroachment drive near Jama Masjid in Old Delhi on May 3, 2018.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)
Delhi civic officials carry out an anti-encroachment drive near Jama Masjid in Old Delhi on May 3, 2018.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)
Updated on May 04, 2018 07:25 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

Squatters encroaching on roads, sidewalks and other public spaces in the Capital reappeared at their putative establishments soon after being removed by Delhi authorities over the week, exposing an acute lack of follow-up measures in the wake of lacklustre action in the first place.

The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on Thursday, directing it to provide reasons behind amending the master plan to allow extra floor area ratio (FAR) to commercial complexes in 112 markets so that they remain protected from the ongoing sealing drive. The highest court also pulled up the civic agency for giving just three days to the public for giving their objections to the proposed amendment.

Six days after a special task force set up by the Centre launched an anti-encroachment drive across Delhi following Supreme Court directions, HT revisited five spots and found that squatters were back in business. The streets looked chaotic, with vendors freely hawking their wares on pavements and illegally parked cars causing traffic snarls.

On May 1, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation had removed at least 12 temporary structures and makeshift kitchens from pavements in RK Puram. When HT visited the site two days later, hawkers had built new structures on both the stretches. The broken tin roofs of eateries had been reinstated.

At Govindpuri in south Delhi, tyre shops and car workshops that had encroached on pavements and were removed in a drive on Wednesday were back a day later.

The north Corporation had lifted 17 vehicles near the Red Fort on Netaji Subhash Marg on May 1. However, on Thursday, the entire road had scores of e-rickshaws and carts parked right on the traffic intersection, causing traffic to crawl.

Municipal officials refused to go on the record citing Supreme Court scrutiny, but on condition of anonymity, one of them said all records and evidence of every action taken under the encroachment drive were sent to the local police for follow-up action. “It is their responsibility to ensure that no squatter comes back,” he said.

Delhi Police spokesperson Madhur Verma said that they will initiate regular drives to check that these squatters do not return to their usual spots.

“Under the Delhi Police Act, we can take preventive action by confiscating the goods of repeat offenders. However, we prefer to keep the municipalities in the loop during these drives,” he said.

A Supreme Court bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta found it strange that the special task force team set up by the Centre on April 25 targeted only the poor during its drive free the public spaces from encroachment. “We can see from the pictures that you have removed only the tea vendors or those who are poor. How about the portacabins outside palatial houses where security guards sit,” justice Gupta asked additional solicitor generals Maninder Singh and AS Nadkarni.

Both assured the court that no distinction would be made by the task force and all encroachments would be removed. “This is just the beginning. The drive will continue,” Nadkarni told the bench.

“Why do you have this double standard? When it comes to inviting objections from the public, you give only three days. But when we (court) ask you to file an affidavit, you ask for six weeks. Sometimes even that is not enough,” the judges asked Singh when he opened arguments on behalf of the DDA to lift the stay order the court had imposed on the proposed amendments to the Delhi Master Plan 2021.

The court had on March 8 put on hold the changes the DDA had suggested to the plan to give relief to traders from the ongoing sealing drive. The court had asked for responses on the adverse impact of the amendments to the master plan, which the DDA did not do. The law requires the DDA to seek objections and public views before proposing changes to the master plan.

Singh requested the court to take up the DDA’s plea to lift the stay. He argued the FAR relief was meant for 112 shopping areas where the government had in 1962 permitted dual use of buildings. “Here the ground floor was meant for commercial purposes and the first floor for residential areas. Although the master plan allowed extra FAR for residential dwellings, no such relief was extended to these areas,” he said.

But the judges were not convinced and questioned the rationale behind increasing the FAR. They also reminded Singh that the master plan in which changes were proposed was under challenge. “If we allow the amendments now and constructions come up overnight then what will you do if the master plan is quashed? That is a possibility and it cannot be ruled out,” justice Lokur told Singh.

Asking Singh to give in writing the amendments the DDA had suggested to the master plan and asked senior advocate Ranjit Kumar to respond to them on May 8.

At the end of the hearing, the judges reminded Singh and Nadkarni that the situation in Delhi with regard to pollution, water scarcity and congestion had reached alarming levels. “It seems irreversible. Perhaps it’s too late. If we are hearing this matter it’s only for the people of Delhi. If efforts are made, things can probably improve,” the bench said.

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