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Why shops are being sealed in Delhi

November 06, 2006 17:25 IST
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Shopkeepers in many posh Delhi areas are a worried lot. Despite attempts by the Delhi government and the Union Urban Development Ministry to spare them, the Supreme Court has asked the civic authorities to ensure that those violating the Delhi Master Plan 2001 by operating commercial establishments from residential areas don't go unpunished.

Here's a primer on what the issue means, how it came to the forefront, and how it could force some 44,000 shopkeepers in the national capital to shut shop:

What does the Supreme Court want?
Is Delhi waiting for a Mumbai-like disaster, the Supreme Court had asked on September 7, 2005. The rapid influx of migrants to the city and the open political invitation to settle in the capital with an assurance that their settlements will be regularised had had a debilitating effect on the city's civic amenities, the court felt.

The apex court again expressed its concern on November 18, 2005, over the mushrooming commercial activities in residential areas in violation of the Delhi Master Plan 2001. It asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to submit a list of areas where such violations were rampant.

What is the Delhi Master Plan?
Back in 1957, it was felt that the national capital needed to be planned and developed in a phased manner. Thus, under the Delhi Development Act, the Delhi Development Authority was assigned the task of preparing a Master Plan for Delhi. It was also designated as the sole developer of land to be acquired for urbanisation.

When was the first Master Plan made and what did it entail?
The first master plan was prepared in 1962. It required Delhi to have a city centre, Connaught Place, and at least 75 district centres for large-scale commercial activities. It also entailed Delhi to have 300 community centers, 1,250 local shopping centers and 3,000 convenient shopping centers. Most of the objectives that the master plan entailed were not achieved. As a result the city continued to grow haphazardly with numerous unauthorised constructions and slums coming up. Shops sprang up along roadsides and traffic and civic amenities were overburdened.

Was the Master Plan ever amended?
The idea was to renew the master plan every 20 years. However, the next master plan could not be renewed till 1986 (due to the Asian Games). The new master plan (MPD 2001) came into force in 1991. The 2001 plan faced some challenges with the Supreme Court on July 8, 1996, decreeing that 168 hazardous or `polluting' industries be `relocated' or shifted out of Delhi.

But in November 2000, practically all units in the polluting category as well as those in the `non-conforming' areas were under attack. The category of units in the 'non-conforming areas' are basically units that are located in areas marked for residential purposes in the Master Plan.

When the Supreme Court ordered the sealing of unauthorized shops in the city that violated the Master Plan 2001, the government made amendments to the plan to provide relief to shopkeepers.

Under pressure from protesting traders and the Opposition, who wanted the government to come out immediately with the new master plan incorporating its liberal mixed-land use notifications, the Centre is expected to come out with a new master plan by January next year.

The Master Plan 2021 could allow regularisation of industries in residential areas where their concentration is 70 per cent or more.

What did the court do after that?

After the civic authority submitted its list, the Supreme Court, on February 16 this year, ordered the MCD to publish a list of residential premises being used for commercial purposes. This list was to be published in newspapers within ten days. The owners of such premises were directed to stop the misuse within 30 days of the list's publication or file affidavits to escape immediate closure of their premises.

On March 3, the Supreme Court directed municipal authorities to clear roads, footpaths and public streets from unauthorised hawkers and squatters within two weeks and asked them formulate a policy for them keeping in view the welfare of the general public. It asked the civic authorities to file a compliance report in four weeks.

After the deadline for filing of affidavits expired on March 28, the MCD started sealing premises in 12 residential zones. The court later extended the deadline for sealing of shops to June 30. The court had also ordered constitution of a committee to monitor the sealing drive and made it clear that another extension will not be given.

The monitoring committee allowed 19 trading activities to continue in residential localities, provided shops did not exceed 20 square metres and dealt with the daily needs of residents.

The committee also recommended such shops be identified and registered by MCD and allotted a serial number.

What are the Centre and the Delhi government doing about it?
Based on the Supreme Court's February 16 order, the MCD identified 189 roads where action would be taken and formed five special teams to oversee the process.

The MCD swung into action on March 29 and sealed 1,000 commercial properties in four days despite widespread resistance. The action saw agitated traders setting fire to an MCD vehicle, pelting stones on officials and facing police lathi-charge.

In April and May, New Delhi came under virtual siege as the MCD, under an unrelenting Supreme Court's orders, unleashed workers and a fleet of bulldozers in a bid to restore order to chaotic, unplanned streets.

The civic agency sealed shops and commercial establishments in residential areas, many of them decades old and located in the heart of the city, even as the traders' protests became increasingly violent. The MCD had sealed about 13,000 shops by the end of May.

However, the demolitions continued intermittently for the next three months.

In view of the growing protests against the sealing drive, the central government on September 7 and 15 passed an ordinance allowing mixed use of residential areas for commercial purposes.

The MCD action was halted after violence in Seelampur locality of the city on September 20, which claimed three lives 

Was this the end of the affair?

No. That incident forced the Centre filed a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court on September 22 stating that the September 7 notification was a valid piece of delegated legislation and complied with all the procedures mandated by Delhi Development Act, 1957. It also appointed a committee headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patil to go into the sealing process of shops in Delhi by municipal authorities.

On September 29, the Supreme accepted these notifications and put on hold shop sealing operations till October 31.
With law and order situation being precarious over the issue, the Urban Development Ministry filed an application seeking modification of the apex court's September 29 order. On October 18, the court extended the last date for filing of affidavits by shopkeepers till January 31, 2007.

As the October 31 deadline neared, the traders announced a 3-day bandh, which was marked by violence in some parts of the city. Striking traders were also lathicharged when they tried to take a protest  march to the Delhi assembly.

Consequently, the Urban Development Ministry had to again approach the apex court to seek some reprieve for the traders. The MCD also filed a similar application seeking suspension of the sealing drive against traders who have given an undertaking to prevent misuse of the premises in residential areas.

The application said the situation has been reviewed by the government at various levels and stock was taken of the prevailing situation. However, the Supreme Court on November 6 ordered that sealings should continue.

Earlier, a Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister Shivraj Patil guaranteed that the urban development ministry and the MCD will make a special mention before the Supreme Court that the sealing operation cannot be carried out in Delhi on November 2 because of the tense situation in the national capital.

Compiled by Vipin Vijayan

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