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‘Appeasement’ flayed

Editorial |

Giving new dimension to that word politicians love to use, the Supreme Court has flayed the repeated tinkering with Delhi’s Master Plan to assuage agitations ~ generally by the trading community who make a mockery of zoning regulations by indiscriminate, illegal, expansion/modification of their shops and establishments. The most recent example being the Delhi Development Authority’s acting at the behest of the union ministry for housing and urban affairs to provide “relief” to shopkeepers whose premises were being sealed, in accordance with an earlier judicial directive.

In a sharp quip, a Bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur wondered if the agency should be re-designated the “Delhi Destruction Authority”. Accusing the government, the DDA to be specific, of buckling under pressure (the local AAP government has opposed the sealing drive of the municipalities) the Court observed, “You propose to bring in changes in the Master Plan, you want to destroy Delhi?” adding that “You have not learnt anything from the Uphaar 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”. Mr Justice Deepak Gupta was the other member of the Bench which asked, “What about the people who are staying in Delhi… you cannot hear only some people… are you looking after the interests of the people of Delhi or not?” Stressing the need for the rule of law to prevail in all aspects of civic governance, their Lordships observed that some of the world’s most polluted cities were in India, and Delhi was perhaps the worst, Jutice Lokur said “I do not know what civic authorities are doing in Delhi.”

That judicial “slamming” amounted to collective condemnation of how successive governments, over the past 50 years, have sought political rewards by frequently making light of the provisions of Master Plans. Little effort is made to curb illegal “colonisation”; then for political factors those areas are “regularised” and extending civic services becomes a veritable nightmare. Residential areas are “commercialised”, with no thought given to people who had built their homes there. Even when the local and central government have the same political complexion the “process” continues, which raises the question of why Master Plans are formulated to start with.

The urban affairs ministry is not only the biggest landowner in the NCT, it plays a critical role in the civic administration so it cannot escape the onus for the planning process being so flagrantly ignored. It was sometimes said that the problem was the result of that ministry being headed by “outsiders”, but now it seems that even ministers with a local “feel” place short-term political gain at a higher priority than the overall welfare of the city ~ for some of them New Delhi appears limited only to Lutyens’ luxury enclave.