Delhi's illegal constructions: Criminal provisions are badly needed to curb menace, AAP's silence is surprising

Why should concerned civic authorities and owners of buildings not be punished in the thousands of cases in which illegal premises have come up in Delhi? This is a pertinent question that political parties engaged in a slugfest over the sealing of properties should raise to ensure that the menace of illegal construction is contained.

A month ago, the Supreme Court revived the monitoring committee to seal illegal premises. Consequently the municipal corporations in the capital city have been continuing the sealing operations under the observation of this committee.
“We have not counted the number of illegal premises sealed till now. But it is probably around five hundred,” said KJ Rao, a member of the monitoring committee.

He also added that the number of premises which should be sealed as per the Supreme Court order would run into thousands.

The drive has led to sharp reactions as the owners of the sealed properties have cried foul. Political parties have blamed each other for the imbroglio.

 Delhis illegal constructions: Criminal provisions are badly needed to curb menace, AAPs silence is surprising

Representational image. Reuters

There can be no running away from the fact that many illegal constructions have come up in in Delhi in recent years, causing much inconvenience to the public. There can also be no denying that the vice of illegal construction has to be stopped by lawful deterrence.

Last year, a committee formed by the Delhi High Court observed that there is a nexus between builders, officials and owners which are behind such constructions. The committee also advised that criminal proceedings should be launched against this nexus.

As reported by ET realty, the committee members, former CBI director DR Karthikeyan, ex-India Habitat Centre Director RMS Liberhan and retired district judge Ravinder Kaur, said that without enforcing any criminal liability on the builder-architect-owner-official nexus, "no lasting remedy will work".

"Illegal constructions cannot happen without connivance. Builder-official nexus ... thrives in our cities by buying protection and insurance from the law enforcers. The builder, architect and the owner have a vested interest. Often, the purchaser is the most vulnerable,” the committee observed.

Sadly, the suggestion of this committee to deter illegal construction by enforcing criminal liability has hardly found any mention in the recent political discourse initiated by Delhi’s lawmakers.

Speaking on the suggestion to assign criminal liability on the nexus as suggested by the Delhi High Court committee, advocate Ashok Agarwal said to Firstpost that laws pertaining to construction of buildings in Delhi consider deviation as a civil offence.
“There is no law that considers violation of building norms as a criminal offence. So, fixing criminal liability on the builder- architect-owner-official nexus is likely to have a deterrent effect on the construction of unauthorised buildings,” he said.

To curb the growing menace of illegal construction of buildings in Guwahati city in the year 2005, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the then Guwahati Development Minister of Assam amended the concerned Guwahati Municipal Act, making violation of building construction norms into a criminal offence.

Ranjit Dev Choudhury, an advocate in Gauhati High Court said about this provision, “According to this provision, any officer permitting illegal construction and the promoter, owner or builder of an illegal construction would be liable to punishment of imprisonment of six months and fine of Rs.10,000.”

Mrigen Saraniya, Mayor of Guwahati, said to Firstpost that this provision had a tremendous psychological impact on people who resort to violation of building bye-laws.

“After this new provision was included in the GMC Act, the number of illegal constructions decreased drastically,” he said.
He further added, “Nowadays, we mostly get complaints about minor deviations from building laws which can be regularised without having to invoke criminal proceedings.”

The AAP, which rules the state government, deviated from the reality in this matter. It blamed the BJP-led MCDs of conspiring to destroy the small businesses and favoring the bigger ones by initiating the sealing drive.

Taking a detour from the main issue of illegal construction, the Delhi Assembly — in which the AAP has a majority — on Tuesday decided to probe the collection and use of conversion charges by the municipal corporations.

Ashok Agarwal said to Firstpost that permitting illegal construction is nothing but corruption, and that the silence of the AAP which has been demanding the enforcement of Jan Lokpal Act to punish the corrupt, is surprising.

“Earlier, Arvind Kejriwal himself had a discussion with me about the provisions to launch criminal proceedings against the officials neglecting their duty. His silence on this crucial issue now is a departure from his earlier stand,” said Agarwal, who was an executive council member of the AAP before quitting the party.

Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 15:31:46 IST