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Despite the apex court’s orders, our civic authorities keep cutting corners on issues like sealing

Our markets have become a civic mess, even potential death traps. The Supreme Court has warned the DDA to not buckle under pressure and amend the Master Plan in a haste.

editorials Updated: Feb 06, 2018 18:57 IST
Hindustan Times
Supreme Court,National Capital Region,DDA
New Delhi, India - Feb. 2, 2018: Traders protest during the “Delhi Bandh” protest against the sealing drive by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, February 2(Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

When the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday called the Delhi Development Authority (DDA)  “the Delhi Destruction Authority”, its frustration with the agency and the national capital’s planning process was understandable. Each time the apex court had ordered action against the misuse of municipal laws, the DDA and successive governments had responded with a plan to protect the violators.

Back in 2006, when the apex court ordered the sealing of illegal commercial premises, the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government brought a law to protect the affected properties. But this was meant to be a temporary intervention, which came with the promise that a mechanism would soon be put in place to rid the city of unauthorised development. Changes were made to the Master Plan of Delhi. Multiple extensions to this law have been used by the civic agencies as an excuse to not act even against the more recent irregularities.

As a result, our markets have become a civic mess, even potential death traps, as serious contraventions that can cause loss or damages to life or property have gone unchecked. With the recently revived Supreme Court monitoring committee sealing shops, offices, popular restaurants and even banks for breach of municipal norms, the scale of illegal operations that has been revealed is mind-boggling. The DDA’s response has been to suggest amending the Master Plan to accommodate a new set of illegalities that have sprung up since the last modification. It is almost as if the authority waited for the violations to gain a critical mass after which it was deemed mandatory to have them regularised.

Fortunately, not everyone is supporting the DDA’s efforts to reward the law-breakers. The SC has warned the land agency to not buckle under pressure and amend the Master Plan in haste. The resident welfare bodies have asked if its decision to allow commercial use of basements, increase floor area ratio of shops uniformly, and convert stretches in residential areas to mixed land use was backed by a study.

The DDA may insist that it has put enough safeguards in place. Compliance with structural safety and fire norms and provision of parking are mandatory for traders to avail of the proposed benefits. But there is no clarity on enforcement, which is the municipal corporation’s job. The stretches approved for mixed land use by the Master Plan in 2007 remain some of the most crammed, polluted and hazardous commercial spaces in the city today. So, it is time the civic authorities came clean on their priorities. The DDA, for one, is mandated to “promote and secure the development of Delhi”. The word “illegal” has not been inserted in its charter yet.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 18:56 IST