In the last few weeks the higher courts of Delhi, the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, have actively supported the cleaning up of Delhi by the removal of encroachments on public land, demolition of illegal structures and unlawful commercialisation of residential areas. The judiciary has compelled the local authorities-DDA, MCD and NDMC-to enforce the building bylaws and to remove all encroachments on public land. Strangely, the activism of the courts has roused the ire not only of the lawbreakers but also of the lawmakers-the Corporators, the MLAs and MPs of Delhi. No one is denying the fact that the public spaces and open areas in Delhi have been widely encroached upon, buildings constructed without sanction or in violation of the bylaws and widespread commercial use made of residential areas. And yet on the specious grounds that all this lawlessness has occurred in the full view of the Government and its agencies and that large-scale demolition will not only cause great economic loss to the lawbreakers but also create large scale unemployment for persons engaged in the various businesses, the action ordered by the High Court and the Apex Court is being strongly criticized. The so-called people's representatives have been demanding the reversal of the Courts' orders, stoppage of demolitions except for ongoing illegal constructions on public land, and the declaration of a large number of roads for "mixed use", in other words, for commercial activity. Put plainly, the demand is to allow the chaotic state in Delhi, the congestion, insanitary conditions and traffic problems and great inconvenience to the common man notwithstanding.

The law abiding citizens, including the Residents' Welfare Associations, the architects and town-planners have strongly opposed the demands. Strangely, the Government of Delhi, the Corporators and the MPs have come out virtually 100% of them, to allow the status quo to continue, regularise the

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  • Alternate dispute redressal system

violations, if necessary on payment of a fee, and declare all major roads as being available for mixed use. Finding the courts unrelenting, and the Residents' Welfare Associations in strong opposition, the Central Government which is in charge of the land management of Delhi and its planned development, has decided on legislation that can only be described as over-riding, over-ruling and interrupting the enforcement of the laws by the Superior Courts.

By way of a palliative, the Central Government promises that it shall within a period of one year of the promulgation of the Act "take all possible measures to finalise norms, policy guidelines and feasible strategies to deal with the problem of unauthorised development" with regard to mixed land-use (commercialisation) not conforming to the Master Plan, construction beyond sanctioned plans, or without sanction, and encroachment on public land including roads by slum and jhuggi-jhompdi dwellers, hawkers and street-vendors. The hope is expressed that thereafter the development of Delhi shall take place in a sustainable and planned manner. The proposed Act does not change the existing laws, bylaws etc. but only suspends their enforcement retrospectively so far as the Court's orders between 1 st January, 2006 and the date of promulgation of the Act are concerned and thereafter until decisions are taken on the basis of "finalisation of the norms, policy guidelines and feasible strategies in respect of problems relating to the unauthorised development in respect of the mixed land use, construction beyond the sanctioned plans and encroachment by slum-dwellers, hawkers and street-vendors in Delhi within a definite time-frame." The Statement of Objects and Reasons also states that the process of finalising a comprehensive and balanced strategy on these complex issues would involve "ground level survey, collection of requisite data, its analysis, consultation with Residents' Societies and Residents' Welfare Associations by the local bodies. Professional expert organisations may also have to be involved to formulate a sustainable strategy. This will take some time." It is further stated that the Government "considers it necessary and desirable to make a special law for this purpose for the National Capital Territory of Delhi."

A point to be noticed is that except for the consultation and a passing mention of "citizens' right on the public places" the entire Statement of Objects and Reasons makes no mention of the common man. The non-enforcement of the existing laws, the collusive action and corrupt practices of the implementing agencies have brought untold hardship on the law-abiding population of Delhi that in its totality is very much larger in size than the trading entities, their employees and the slum and JJ dwellers.

In the course of the last few months, we have seen how even the peremptory orders of the High Court and Apex Court have not been faithfully complied with by the MCD, DDA and NDMC and how the influential and prosperous lawbreakers, some of them elected representatives of the people, have been left out of the punitive action ordered by the courts. The law-abiding public and the media believe that the administration and management of land in Delhi is highly corrupt at all levels and that this corruption extends also to the so-called elected representatives nursing vote-banks and lining their pockets.

Finally, considering the patent unwillingness of the field staff of all the agencies, it could be said with a high degree of confidence that the tasks proposed to be completed within one year and a special legislation enacted, are outside the competence of the DDA, MCD, NDMC and the Central Government. The result is likely to be the indefinite prolongation of the amnesty being demanded by the irresponsible politicians.

We hope that the game is not played out yet. The Government of India is, with a mere declaration, using legislative power to overrule, revise and override judicial decisions. And this not after all the decisions had been taken but while the Apex Court and the High Court were actually in the process of enforcing existing laws.

(P. K. DAVE)

July-September 2006