SC asks for common mobility plan in NCR
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to set up a uniform system for hassle-free movement within the National Capital Region (NCR), stepping in to clear up widespread confusion among thousands of commuters who have been facing difficulties at borders due to state-specific travel restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan asked the central government to convene a meeting of officials from the three states — all part of NCR — within a week and come up with a common portal to facilitate interstate travel such as the one between Delhi and Noida or Delhi and Gurugram. The court fixed June 12 as the next date of hearing.
“...the Government of India shall convene a meeting of concerned state officials/UTs and endeavour to find out a common programme, common portal for easing the interstate movement on all state borders in the National Capital Region. Needful be done within a week,” the bench, which also comprised justices SK Kaul and MR Shah, ordered.
Formed in 1985, NCR, which spans 55,083 square kilometres and also includes parts of Rajasthan, was envisaged as a composite area for coordinated urban planning and development, but the lack of coordination among member states have time and again been exposed over the years in critical areas such a pollution control and mobility. In fact, experts blamed officials in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana for not working in tandem to prevent the border mess during the lockdown.
“The idea [of NCR] was to decongest Delhi and allow integrated development in Delhi and neighbouring cities. Integration of transport was an important component. Instead of taking decisions considering NCR as a whole unit, the district administrations in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana are working in silos,” AK Jain, former planning commissioner, Delhi Development Authority (DDA), said.
State authorities welcomed the Supreme Court directive. “We will implement the orders of the Supreme Court through complete collaboration with our sister states under the aegis of the Union ministry of home affairs,” Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev said.
Amit Arya, media adviser to Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, said: “We will work with the other state governments on the modalities, and find out a way forward...”
While Ajay Shankar Pandey, the Ghaziabad district magistrate, said relevant directions on the issue will come from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, authorities in Noida did not immediately react to the issue.
“...Let us go through the observations/orders... [and] let the Centre convene the meeting first...,” a senior government official said in Lucknow on the condition of anonymity.
Strict border curbs have hindered movement of commuters in the NCR region ever since the lockdown was first imposed on March 25. What added to the confusion were state-specific rules that, in turn, led to serpentine queues at Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram and Faridabad borders as the police turned away scores of commuters who did not have necessary permits.
For example, Delhi announced sealing its border for at least a week on June 1, two days after the central guidelines on a phased reopening green-lighted interstate travel but pointed out at the same time that state-specific curbs are allowed based on assessment of the ground situation. Though Haryana decided lifting of border restrictions after the Centre’s guidelines, commuters travelling from the national capital to Gurugram and Faridabad were back to square one with Delhi imposing stringent restrictions.
In Thursday’s hearing, the petitioner, Rohit Bhalla, a resident of Gurugram, pointed out the troubles commuters were facing at the borders and the confusion among them.
He said measures adopted by states were disproportionately impacting citizens in NCR and violating their fundamental rights, including the right to movement under Article 19(1)(d) and the right to carry on with trade or occupation under Article 19(1)(g).
Specifically, Bhalla challenged the orders passed by officials in Haryana on April 29 and Uttar Pradesh on May 3.
In the April 29 notification, the Gurugram and Sonepat administrations directed residents of these two districts who cross interstate borders to arrange for accommodation outside Haryana, Bhalla said. He also pointed out that the Gautam Budh Nagar administration announced sealing of the Noida border on May 3.
“Restricting movement and activities to different extents in different areas falling within the NCR is in complete violation of the Union of India’s new guidelines dated May 1, 2020 which in fact allows movement for permissible activities [such as essential services],” the petitioner said.
The absence of a common pass system was another aspect Bhalla pointed out in his petition filed on May 11. Commuters in NCR have to apply for e-passes in state-specific portals.
“A person residing in one State, working for gain in another state and falling within permissible limits of the New Guidelines [of May 1], has to apply for passes in both the States and may get accepted by one and rejected in the other due to a complete lack of co-ordination in the said state departments, preventing his fundamental right to practice his profession or commerce in spite of the same being allowed by the New Guidelines,” the petition said.
(with inputs from HTC in Noida and Gurugram)