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Pin the babus

The Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court need to be congratulated for coming to the aid of the common citizens by issuing specific instructions to take punitive action against major violators who, have sought to make the capital's face ugly, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 00:16 IST
Between us | Pankaj Vohra
Between us | Pankaj Vohra

The Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court need to be congratulated for coming to the aid of the common citizens by issuing specific instructions to take punitive action against major violators who, over the years with active connivance of bureaucrats and politicians, have sought to make the capital's face ugly.

It is not mere coincidence that the judges — Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal and High Court judge, Justice Vijendra Jain — besides holding august positions are also Delhiites in the true sense. They understand the magnitude and seriousness of the problem as much as any conscious citizen.

The orders by the two courts are clearly aimed at improving the quality of life in Delhi as well as upholding the rule of law. The message is that anyone trying to tinker with the basic building bylaws as they exist, and carrying out violations of a very grave nature, cannot be spared but should be dealt with a heavy hand. Over the years, residents in several residential areas have had to move out or suffer on account of massive commercial activity. Which was, in turn, encouraged by corrupt functionaries of the DDA and the MCD. But it is not politicians alone who can be blamed for this state of affairs. It is the bureaucrats who have to accept as much responsibility.

No junior engineer can dare to look the other way unless he has the patronage of powerful functionaries in the civic agencies — the politicians and bureaucrats. In fact, it would be a good exercise to find out the details about the properties of both these categories of people, in their or their relatives' names, to get an idea to the extent of corruption in the Delhi government and its agencies.

There is also an attempt to pin the blame on the Union Urban Development Ministry (UDM). While this could be partially responsible, it cannot be singularly blamed for not coming out with the Master Plan. In fact, the non-finalisation of the Master Plan is really a blessing since the planners in the UDM can take into account the observations of the Supreme Court in order to make their plan legally foolproof.

While tackling the problem of demolitions and unauthorised structures, those affected must understand the basic issues. The courts have sought to make a distinction between major and minor violators. Emphasis must be on taking action against the major violators first. What vested interests are trying to propagate is that the entire city is going to be uprooted. The idea behind this seems to be that the big sharks are wanting common people to fight their battle in the streets so that the major offenders can get pardoned in the confusion that gets created.

Once the Union ministry conducts its survey, it could request the courts to take a lenient and humane view of the matter. But in order to do so, the civic agencies must come down heavily on those who have made living a nightmare for law-abiding citizens in residential areas. The history of DDA and MCD shows how land use has been allowed to be changed to suit the rich and the affluent. The case of a South Delhi five-star hotel is one such instance. The others pertain to cinema halls being converted to automobile showrooms or studios and offices of various kind of organisations.

The politicians are always the first to be blamed. But those who are conversant with Delhi affairs will understand that the recommendations of the Balakrishnan Committee (which resulted in Delhi getting a lame duck assembly and elected government, and the re-structuring of the MCD, in 1993) clearly tried to empower bureaucrats at the expense of politicians. Though Sheila Dikshit and chief ministers before her have tried to convey the impression that they were all-powerful, their dependence on the bureaucracy is much pronounced. Nothing can happen unless the strong IAS lobby complies with the orders of the CM or any elected representative.

Similarly in the MCD, following the recommendations of the Balakrishnan Committee, the elected representatives hold office normally for only one year while the bureaucrats like the commissioner and others continue to be in their positions for years together. The mayor, for instance, is changed every year. By the time the incumbent starts to understand the affairs of the civic body, he has to move on. Every chairman of the zonal committee also gets moved out. For instance Rakesh Mehta, the CM's choice for the municipal commissioner before the present incumbent, in his four years in office must have seen four mayors come and go. This is not to cast aspersions on Mehta, who is a fine officer, but to drive home a point.

The point is that the bureaucracy is perhaps more to blame than the politicians. Everyone knows that Delhi's politics, since Independence, has been influenced by the powerful land and building lobby. But this lobby, while enjoying the patronage of politicians, also has cultivated the bureaucracy with equal ease, a point which often goes unnoticed. Therefore, it is important to put the bureaucracy as much under the scanner as the politicians.

Citizens must realise that their case for general amnesty may be considered by the courts but only if the big fish are netted first. These powerful people must not play with the city's environment. The Congress may pay for sins committed even during the BJP regime, but the survival of the city is much more important an issue.

As a Delhiite, all of us should support the spirit of the judgment of the two courts as it is the maximum happiness of the maximum number of people which is more important than the maximum happiness of a few. The rule of law has to be upheld and powerful voices should not be allowed to get away with major violations. Between us.

First Published: Feb 20, 2006 00:16 IST