On driving along Delhi's concentric roads, away from its neat nucleus, into hundreds of colonies lost in its eastward-northward-westward realms are buildings with grazed doors and smashed windows. Aside from fracturing the city’s aesthetic look, the sealing drive is a cause of massive monetary inconvenience to traders who own and run these properties.
The trader community in the national capital is nearly 10 lakh strong and has traditionally been the BJP’s core voter. The Aam Aadmi Party is cornering the BJP on the sealing issue with two points: first is that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi that is demolishing the buildings on the instructions of the monitoring committee is under the charge of the BJP, and second, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) that can alter Delhi’s Master Plan (that contains ambiguities on mixed land use) also takes orders from the BJP-ruled Centre.
The monitoring committee comprising former advisor to the Election Commission KJ Rao, Environmen Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) chairman Bhure Lal and Major General (Retired) Som Jhingan, which was appointed to oversee the implementation, has the power to seal offending premises without leaving the said action to the discretion of the MCD officials.
“The Aam Aadmi Party has failed to improve the infrastructure of old markets, be it Chandni Chowk or Sadar Bazar. They are exactly the way they used to be three years ago," said Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT).
However, the lack of efforts by the BJP state unit to rectify its stand on the sealing drive is making it easier for Kejriwal to turn the issue into a poll agenda. Khandelwal added that AAP had promised a single licence programme to traders who currently have to get up to 14 licenses to do business in the national capital.
The CAIT has suggested Union Urban Development Minister Harjit Puri to constitute a working group comprising of officials from Ministry of Urban Development, Delhi Government, DDA, MCD, Land & Development Office (L&DO), Delhi Police and other concerned departments with representatives from the trade body, but even though less than a month is left for the Lok Sabha election, no official commitment on this has been made yet.
Ajay Gupta, member of the Sundar Nagar Market Association, had earlier told Firstpost that his area was notified as a commercial zone in the Master Plan, but sealings have been going on despite that. "The monitoring committee says they haven’t sealed our area, but the MCD has been showing up without any notice or proof and has sealed 24 out of 30 shops even though it has been a commercial area since its inception in the 50s,” rued Gupta.
The trader community has been staging protests and demanding a re-designation of commercial, residential and mixed use land. The traders’ take is that on the pretext of non-clarity on the issue, the monitoring committee is carrying out sealing drives. For instance, Delhi’s walled city is a commercial area since even before a century but is still facing sealing threats and local shopping centres (LSCs) are being forced to pay conversion charges.
"People have paid lakhs to convert residential properties into commercial properties, but the multiple civic bodies in Delhi leave a lacuna in the law to keep harassing traders," said Sanjiv Mehra, president of the Traders’ Association in Khan Market for nearly two decades.
In another move to appease the traders, AAP named Sushil Gupta and ND Gupta as its three nominees for the Rajya Sabha elections in January this year. In picking these candidates, AAP had overlooked senior leaders like Kumar Vishwas and Ashutosh.
In 2017, the DDA directed shopkeepers to deposit Rs 22,000 per square metre as a conversion charge along with an affidavit. Before the DDA’s rate was notified, sealings in Defence Colony were carried out over non-payment of conversion charges at the rate of Rs 89,000 per square metre.
In 2018, an amendment to the rule exempted traders who paid the annual charges for a period of 10 years.
But traders are now concerned if the money collected in the form of conversion charges is being used towards the upkeep of the market complexes. “Such anxiety to the trading community has caused immense frustration,” added Mehra.
Meanwhile, Vijendra Gupta of the Delhi BJP unit told Firstpost that in 2018, the DDA had, in fact, made modifications in the Delhi master plan to rectify the issue, but the Supreme Court’s monitoring committee interfered in the implementation of the changes.
The DDA had made two modifications. The first increased the number of workers for household industrial units from five to 10 and maximum power usage limit from 5 kilowatt to 11 kilowatt. The second modifications pertained to local shopping centres. Establishments that fell under this category and hadn't deviated from already approved plans, as per the modifications proposed, were not to be liable to pay the use conversion charges.
Gupta is an MLA from Rohini, one of the three constituencies from where AAP lost out to the BJP in the 2015 Delhi Assembly polls. He hails from the bania trader community and is also a member of the DDA.
“The Aam Aadmi Party is playing negative politics to garner the trader vote instead of lending administrative support to solve the issue," alleged Gupta, adding that the BJP’s approach to the issue is far more specific. He feels that the AAP is addressing the traders as one block to galvanise a vote bank.
The sealing drive dates back to 1985 when environmentalist MC Mehta had filed a petition in the Supreme Court that illegal activities were being carried out in the national capital in the context of residential areas being used for commercial purposes. In 2004, the Supreme Court had set up a monitoring committee to address the misuse of residential premises. The Supreme Court had directed that if the misuse didn't stop, the sealing drive would commence.
After traders took to the streets in protest, in which four people lost their lives, the government attempted to subterfuge the apex court’ s order. The DDA had then modified the chapter on mixed land use in the 2001 Master Plan for Delhi. The government at the Centre was that of the Congress. As a result of the modification in the master plan, mixed use streets were now to be identified based on traffic and parking studies.
On the basis of the identification, mixed use was allowed on the ground floor in residential plots and mixed use with respect to retail shops was allowed up to maximum permissible ground floor coverage. Finally, professional activity was allowed up to 25 percent of floor area and up to one floor in case of plotted development. The Congress-ruled Central government then notified the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Bill, 2006, on 19 May to restore status quo on mixed land use not conforming to the master plan and constructions beyond sanctioned plans. This offered traders relief from sealing till December 2017.
On 15 December 2017, under the BJP-led central government, the Supreme Court revived the powers of the monitoring committee and continued its resistance towards the proposed amendments in the Delhi Master Plan. Ever since, a brand new political tug of war has started with the AAP on one end and the BJP on the other.
Owing to the tussle between the two parties, even broken bricks lying on streets of the national capital are rife with political fury.
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Updated Date: Apr 03, 2019 20:40:56 IST