Court questions sealing relief law

Delhi to explain how the law is relevant to the Capital’s planned development

By Moyna
Published: Sunday 15 April 2012

imageUNCERTAINTY prevails over the law the government has been using to legalise illegal constructions in Delhi. In December 2011, the Supreme Court had taken cognizance of the law and asked the government to explain how it adheres to the Masterplan for Delhi, 2021. The hearing scheduled for March 13 did not take place. The new date has not been scheduled yet. The National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Bill was introduced as an ordinance for a year in 2007 after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) launched a drive in 2006 to seal all commercial establishments operating from residential areas. The ordinance came as a relief to traders as it did not allow demolition of any building constructed before February 7, 2007, unless built for public interest like parks.

The government extended the enforcement period of ordinance thrice, each time for a year and finally passed it in the state assembly on December 12, 2011 making it a law. The law will remain applicable till December 2014, or till the masterplan for the city comes into force. The masterplan has been under revision for the past decade.

The court is attempting planned development of Delhi relying completely on the masterplan. But the law comes in the way. It, therefore, asked the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), MCD and the state government to explain how the law adheres to the masterplan. MCD had started the sealing drive in 2006 prompted by the M C Mehta petition that sought removal of hazardous industries from within the city area. Subsequent hearings had led to revelations about businesses and shops operating from residential areas.

Usha Ramanathan, senior advocate and specialist on land laws, says had planned development been the focus, the state government would not have provided band-aid solutions through the special provisions bill. “The bill and the masterplan are attempts to regularise the illegalities and create scope for more illegalities,” she adds.

Illegal constructions exist because the authorities concerned fail to provide adequate land, say DDA officials. Data reveals DDA has always failed to provide land the masterplan demands. For instance, if the masterplan asks for 6,000 shopping complexes, DDA gives land for only 2,000. The 4,000 that come up are illegal, he says.

The gap between the masterplan and ground reality exists because the plan is drawn up by DDA and the state government, while MCD is left to implement it, say MCD officials. The concerns MCD has raised before the Ministry of Urban Development show that implementation of the masterplan is difficult.

Another big problem MCD faces while surveying properties to check their legal status is the proof of ownership. “We no longer accept power of attorney as proof of ownership. Only sale deed is accepted,” says Ramesh Goel, senior engineer at MCD. But 95 per cent people in the city have only the power of attorney because most houses here are very old, he says. The government needs to look at locality specific building by-laws. Also, the government recognises property surveyed way back in 1962. It does not recognise the sub-divisions created later on. Therefore, a majority of property in Delhi is illegal on paper.

For planned development, Delhi’s masterplan provides strategies for housing the urban poor. The government must first make space for jhuggi-jhopris, the village population and street hawkers, says Goel. The national policy for urban street vendors creates special zones for street vendors and hawkers. But these cannot be implemented till the bill is in force. The Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, which came into force in 2010, has identified 685 jhuggi-jhopri clusters in the city. “Relocation of these is likely to take considerable time,” says the special provisions bill. DDA is drawing a policy for farmhouses in Delhi. This too, will take at least two years.

MCD’s sealing drive in Delhi: timeline
February 16, 2006: Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) begins sealing drive following a Supreme Court order. It seals all establishments that do not conform to Delhi’s masterplan. This is a step towards curbing illegal commercialisation and encroachments in the capital.

February 25: Widespread protests by traders result in suspension of the drive.

March 18 to March 21: As Supreme Court schedules hearing for March 26, traders hold protests against it. City-wide bandh is called on March 26.

March 24: Supreme Court postpones hearing to March 28, orders traders to submit affidavits stating they would shut down their establishments if illegal or face action from March 29. Over 40,000 traders file affidavits.

March 29: MCD starts sealing establishments of owners who did not file affidavits.

April 25: Union Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy says Central government will make a bill for the regularisation of commercial establishments.

May 20: MCD ends the drive as Central government introduces Delhi Special Provisions Bill that provides moratorium on demolition and sealing—anyone with an illegal establishment can pay “conversion fee” and turn the establishment legal.

May 21: President APJ Abdul Kalam gives his assent to the bill making it a law.

May 23: MCD starts de-sealing shops.
*Delhi Residents Welfare Associations Front and Citizen’s Forum, a non-profit, allege the new legislation is politically motivated as municipal elections are to be held soon.

August 10: Supreme Court calls the law inefficient, orders MCD to start the sealing drive again.

September 1: MCD resumes sealing shops in residential areas.
*The All Delhi Traders Association files petition in the Supreme Court demanding implementation of Delhi Special Provisions Act. A monitoring committee appointed by the Supreme Court decides in consultation with the MCD not to seal shops that sell essential commodities.

September 7: DDA makes several amendments to the Master Plan Delhi, 2021. It says,
  • professionals can use basements of theirs establishments as offices except in 70 upmarket localities;
  • MCD or government-recognised pre-primary schools will not be sealed;
  • commercial activity will be permitted in Delhi’s 350 villages. Polluting, hazardous units, however, will not be allowed.

September 19: MCD extends the sealing drive to the entire city, so far targeted only to south Delhi. Traders protest at nearly 100 locations across the city. Supreme Court refuses to stay sealing drive.

September 20: Traders’ bandh in Delhi turns violent, four persons die in police firing.

September 21: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sets up a Group of Ministers to look into the matter. MCD suspends all sealing operations saying it needs security to carry out apex court’s order to seal shops.

September 29: Court orders no sealing of commercial establishments till October 31, asks owners of illegal shops to submit affidavits stating that their businesses were running from illegal premises. Court also says it will not tolerate government’s attempts to pass new laws that dilute its orders.

October 18: Supreme Court extends last date for filing affidavits from October 31 to January 31, 2007. Sealing, however, is not stopped for the 44,000 traders who have already submitted affidavits.

October 25: Delhi Trader’s Association decides to intensify protests.

October 30: Traders start a three-day strike against the sealing drive.

October 31: Traders meet Jaipal Reddy and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit.

November 1: The Centre moves the Supreme Court seeking relief for the 44,000 traders saying the law and order situation does not allow sealings to continue.

November 2: Supreme Court schedules hearing on sealing for November 6. State decides not to seal any shop till then.

November 3: MCD approaches Supreme Court with a fresh petition; cites Delhi Special Provisions Act and asks for indefinite postponement of sealings. Delhi Police seeks more reinforcements to deal with the law and order situation.

November 6: Supreme Court dismisses applications of the Centre, the state government and the MCD seeking relief for traders. The GoM decides that court order must be implemented. Traders announce 24-hour bandh on November 7.

November 7: Traders strike.

November 8: MCD resumes the drive amid protests. Twenty-five companies of paramilitary forces are deployed in the city.

November 9: Office of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's located in a residential colony is sealed.

November 27: The government says that the masterplan for Delhi, based on the first masterplan prepared in 1962, will be finalised by January 2007.

December 4: Traders hold Sealing Awareness Week.

December 18: Showrooms of several top designers at Ambawata Complex mall near Qutub Minar sealed.

January 27, 2007: The government files affidavit in the Supreme Court, says the drive should close as the masterplan will come into effect from February 2007. The plan allows mixed land use in various circumstances.

January 31: Thousands of traders file affidavit that they will abide by court verdict as the Delhi Master Plan will put an end to the drive. The new masterplan allows far more liberal guidelines for construction and commercial development. It says that shops on streets across Delhi, that were forced to shut down, will have the right to reopen if they can provide parking space. Landlords can add extra floors to their houses and rent out each floor if they can provide parking space. The masterplan allows 50 per cent of the house to be used for office purpose.

February 7: Confusion prevails. The government says there is no need for the sealings due to the provisions in the masterplan, while the Supreme Court’s monitoring committee had demanded sealings to continue.
*Delhi Special Provisions Bill notified. It says all establishments as they existed on this date and before will not be sealed till December 31, 2008.

February 8: Masterplan for Delhi notified. It identifies mixed land use making functional shops on over 2,000 roads. Supreme Court says sealing should be suspended till February 12.

February 9: Delhi Pradesh Citizen Council, a non-profit, challenges the masterplan in the Supreme Court saying it is to appease traders ahead of the forthcoming municipal elections.

February 13: Supreme Court stays sealing of commercial establishments in residential areas on 2,183 roads covered by Master Plan Delhi, 2021.

December 12, 2011: Delhi Special Provisions Bill is passed in the state assembly. It will remain applicable till December 2014 or till Master Plan for Delhi 2021 is notified.

December 14: Supreme Court questions the validity of Delhi Special Provisions Bill, schedules hearing for March 13, 2012.

March 13: The hearing is not taken up on the scheduled date. Next date has not been decided as yet. It also asks MCD to explain how it plans to provide sanitation and parking and asks DDA to submit report on civic amenities for Delhi’s planned development.

Compiled by Roomana Hukil

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