Counterpoint: Bring on the bulldozers
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Counterpoint: Bring on the bulldozers

We don't give a damn about what happens to those at the margins of our society, writes Vir Sanghvi.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 14:41 IST

Did you weep into your cornflakes when you read about the sad plight of India's top designers, left with one retail outlet less because the illegal shopping mall they favoured had been demolished? Did the tears roll down your cheeks when you saw them on TV, emotionally drawing parallels between the fall of the 1 MG Road shopping complex and the destruction of the Twin Towers?

No? Well, me neither.

As far as I can tell, the argument offered by the designers is not that the 1 MG Road complex was a legal structure and therefore should not have been demolished. They are prepared to concede that it might have been unauthorised - as well they should, given that everybody in Delhi has regarded it as a rather dodgily authorised structure from the time it opened.

Their point is that even if it was illegal and unauthorised, why pick on 1 MG Road when there are many other unauthorised buildings in the same area? Their shops were targeted, they say, trying to sound as humble and pathetic as is possible when your spiky-haired visage dominates Page 3 on a regular basis, because they are small people and soft targets. Why doesn't the government target the big fish?

Even if this rare show of humility is justified by the facts (and I am not even sure that it is), their argument is seriously flawed. Even if there are big fish who have got away, this does not, in any way, lessen the culpability of those who built and operated shops from an illegal structure. To say that no unauthorised building should be demolished till all the others are also bulldozed out of existence is just silly. It is the equivalent of a small-time gangster claiming that it is wrong for the police to arrest him because Dawood Ibrahim continues to live in luxury in Karachi.

The truth is that even if Dawood remains at large, the small-time gangster still has a case to answer.

But are the designers small fish anyhow? Is one of Delhi's most expensive shopping complexes deserving of our sympathy and our pity? Should we feel sorry for all the overpriced lehengas that will now not be sold from 1 MG Road?

For most of us, the people who run expensive shops are not small fish. The real small fish are those whose properties are routinely demolished by the authorities anyway. The designers hit the headlines and make it to TV. But what about the clerk who covers the balcony in his DDA flat to create a bedroom for his children?

Does anybody interview him when the bedroom is demolished? What about the housewife who puts a roof over the courtyard of her house so she can run a small tailoring business but does not make enough money to pay off the DDA's inspectors? Nobody invites her to a TV studio when the roof is pulled down and her business collapses.

But why stop at middle class parallels? A month ago, if you had asked any of the designers and shop owners, who wept so prettily for the TV cameras outside the shell of 1 MG Road, how they would feel if somebody set up a slum colony near their homes, what do you suppose they would have said?

My guess is that they would have been appalled. They would have regarded the hutments as eyesores. They would have pointed to the security threat posed by slum-dwellers. And they would have been perturbed by the erosion in the value of their property once a slum came up next to it.

And yet, the argument in favour of allowing illegal slum colonies to exist is almost exactly the same as the one that the designers are offering to save their sleek little boutiques.

Besides, if we are talking about small fish and big fish, who could be smaller and less consequential than the hapless slum-dwellers of Bombay and Delhi?

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 00:47 IST