To begin with, in an ostensible dig at the DDA over master plan tweaks, the Supreme Court on February 5, 2018 questioned a proposal by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to bring changes to the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 to protect traders from the ongoing sealing drive in the Capital. Not stopping here, the Supreme Court also slammed the DDA for refusing to learn from past tragedies. Going ahead, the Apex Court also lambasted it by labelling it as the “Delhi Destruction Authority”.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that a Bench of Apex Court headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said that the DDA was buckling under pressure to bring in the proposed changes, and not looking at the interests of a larger section of Delhi’s residents. Justice Madan B Lokur minced absolutely no words in voicing his extreme displeasure by stating explicitly that, “You propose to bring in changes in the Master Plan, you want to destroy Delhi? DDA is becoming Delhi Destruction Authority.” There is a lot of merit for him becoming so critical of DDA!
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that Justice Lokur also added that, “You have not learnt anything from the Uphaar fire tragedy, the recent Kamala Mills incident in Mumbai, or the Bawana fire. Everybody in Delhi has kept their eyes shut. You are just waiting for something to happen.” Absolutely right! Why no appropriate lessons have been learnt from so many tragic incidents occurring time and again resulting in huge loss of life and property?
To put things in perspective, while referring to the illegal construction and other civic problems such as poor waste management, rising pollution and lack of parking space, Justice Madan Lokur observed that, “The pollution levels in the country are so bad that of the 20 most polluted cities in the world 13 are in India. And of the 13 cities in India, Delhi is at the top. I do not know what civic authorities are doing in Delhi.” The Apex Court asked the DDA to file an affidavit explaining why changes in the Master Plan 2021 were needed. Now the ball is in the court of the DDA to explain its position on the all-important issue!
To be sure, the civic bodies in north, south and central Delhi have been carrying out sealing drives. It may be recalled that these sealing drives had started in December 2017 with action against more than 50 shops in Defence Colony Market at the instance of a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee. Supreme Court had said on January 31 that the mandate given to its monitoring committee to oversee implementation of the laws relating to the sealing of illegal premises in Delhi does not mean that other authorities would not do their work.
Simply put, the Apex Court made the observation while hearing the pleas by traders of a marble market in South Delhi where South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) had carried out sealing drive as per the direction of the monitoring committee. It may be recapitulated here that the Apex Court had earlier observed that the rule of law over sanction to construct buildings had completely broken down in Delhi and expressed concern over illegal construction. It had also ordered the restoration of its 2006 monitoring committee to identify and seal such offending structures. It is noteworthy that this monitoring committee of the Apex Court that was set up on March 24, 2006 comprised KJ Rao who is former advisor to the Election Commissioner, Bhure Lal who isChairman of EPCA and Major General (Retd) Som Jhingan.
It must be brought out here that under the Master Plan 2021 are 2,183 stretches of roads where commercial and mixed-land use is permitted in the capital. Of course, the sealing drive is being conducted in areas where this is not permitted or where this is not permitted or where there have been other violations, such as building an extra floor or the use of a balcony or basement. It is worth pointing out here that some of the markets that have been hit include popular hubs like Defence Colony, Hauz Khas and Khan Market in South and Central Delhi. This naturally led to protests from traders and shop owners, who have got support from political parties, including the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
It must also be brought out here that the Central Government had just recently announced a slew of measures that were primarily aimed at bringing relief to shop owners and ending the sealing drive. The government recommended allowing more construction in commercial and mixed land use areas, regularizing commercial establishments in basements and reducing conversion penalties in residential areas that are used for commercial activity. The measures were to come into effect after the Master Plan 2021 was amended by the DDA, which agreed to the changes in its February 2 meeting.
Let me hasten to add here that the Supreme Court was hearing a petition against the sealing being carried out under instructions of an Supreme Court- empanelled monitoring committee that was filed by more than 30 marble shop owners in Chattarpur. The DDA, along with the municipal corporations was appearing as a party to the case. DDA Vice-Chairman Udai Pratap Singh sought to make it clear that, “We will follow what the Supreme Court has ordered. We will file the affidavit as sought by the court.”
Truth be told, the Supreme Court stayed any further progress by authorities to amend Delhi Master Plan 2021 which is aimed at granting protection from the ongoing sealing drive in the national capital. The Court took strong exception to the unpalatable fact that neither the Delhi government nor the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCDs) had filed affidavits on whether an environment impact assessment was conducted before proposing an amendment to the city’s Master Plan. A Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta minced no words in putting across its point most strongly by saying categorically that, “This is contempt and nothing short of contempt. This dadagiri has to stop.”
It would be pertinent to mention here that the non-filing of the affidavit was brought to the Apex Court’s attention by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar who is an amicus curiae – a senior advocate appointed by the court to assist it – in the matter. Justice Lokur was quite furious when he lashed out saying that, “Why will they file? They want people to die… See, you are taking the Supreme Court of this country for a ride… The attitude is like we will do whatever we want you may say anything. This is nothing short of contempt, this dadagiri has to stop.”
Going forward, the Bench said that, “In spite of our order dated February 9 DDA, MCD and Delhi government have not filed an affidavit answering the nine questions raised by this court including environment impact assessment. This being the position further implementation of the amendment to the master plan is stayed.” This has certainly put the DDA, MCD and Delhi government in a dock! They have a lot of explanation to do on this!
“Have you conducted any environment impact assessment before making any modification as proposed? Whether any study was conducted and whether any facts and figures are available regarding congestion in the city? Have any steps been taken to effectively manage traffic in consultation with the Delhi Police in view of the proposed changes? Have any fire safety measures been considered like access to fire engines?” the Bench asked seeking details on these aspects.
Practically speaking, the Bench had also asked whether steps for providing parking facilities were provided for and taken into consideration, whether civic amenities are available and have been provided, particularly availability of water – not only for drinking water but for other purposes as well – management of sewage disposal, solid waste management and supply of electricity, etc. It also asked whether safety of buildings which have been and which are sought to be constructed upon has been taken into consideration and whether any assessment was made of all these buildings so that the people’s life are safe and secure; whether the issue of population density in Delhi said to be in the region of 1.67 crore – 2crore has been taken into consideration. However, no details were given by the DDA following which the Apex Court stayed the process of amendment of Master Plan of Delhi 2021.
As it turned out, the Bench also took strong umbrage to the derogatory language that was being used in the video footage and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal being insulted by the protesters. The Bench also pulled back no punches in putting across its strong and unequivocal message that, “You cannot insult the Prime Minister and any Chief Minister just because they are not from your political party. You must show respect to them.” It is the bounden duty of one and all to adhere strictly to what the Apex Court which is the highest court of the land has said so explicitly!
By Sanjeev Sirohi