Union urban affairs minister says he isn’t questioning the committee’s right to seal, but there can’t be a situation where due process isn’t being followed.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee has carried out its task of sealing properties in the capital in a “problematic” way, according to union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri.
In an interview to ThePrint, Puri said the drive to seal commercial establishments operating out of residential premises could bring its members under public scrutiny for failing to follow the due legal process.
The minister pointed out that 30 per cent or more sealed properties had questioned the move, and were in the process of submitting applications for de-sealing, with many of them already de-sealed.
“This means mistakes have been made and somebody has to be held responsible for that,” Puri emphsised. The former IFS officer said he isn’t questioning the committee’s right to seal, but at the same time, there cannot be a situation where the due process is not being followed.
“I mean you want to come into my residence and seal it, you have to give me an opportunity to demonstrate that I have either paid the conversion charge or I am in compliance. You come and seal and discuss later — that’s not acceptable in any society,” he said, adding that people were very upset.
Monitoring Committee head Bhure Lal had earlier told ThePrint that sheer vote bank politics practised by successive governments of Delhi had ruined the capital in the last 10 years.
Amending the master plan
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had restrained the government and the Delhi Development Authority from amending the city’s Master Plan 2021, which would have provided relief to traders from the ongoing sealing drive.
From 2 April, the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on amendment of the master plan by the DDA that it earlier stayed. This was also discussed at an all-party meeting Wednesday, at which politicians sought relief for traders from the sealing drive by the SC’s monitoring panel.
According to Puri, the master plan has already been amended 248 times in the past, and it is the unfettered right of the government to amend it, if the need arises. He said the government is not carrying out the amendment for just one section (traders), for one who is a trader could also be a residents’ welfare association (RWA) member. RWAs were reportedly unhappy with the DDA’s approach towards the sealing drive.
Puri said there was a need to rationalise the floor area ratio in the master plan, and rectify other anomalies, adding that no master plan of any city around the world is written in stone or cast in iron. No one, he said, can anticipate with absolute precision how much of a demographic shift there will be, what problems the city is going to face etc.
“Therefore a master plan, by definition, is a framework agreement, which has certain basic characteristics, but there are provisions for amendment,” he said. Puri also pointed out that the statutory authority to amend the master plan lies with the DDA, provided it doesn’t alter the fundamental characteristics of the master plan.
The affidavit submitted by the government in court is its attempt to provide a solution, said Puri.
Asked if the government had a plan B in case the SC rejected the amendment plan, Puri said no, because it’s the government’s statutory right to frame policies.
“Experience has shown if the executive does not discharge its responsibility, a void is created, and judiciary or someone steps into the void. But I don’t want to get to that point till we are there,” he said.
“I hold the judiciary in respect. Many members of the higher judiciary are people with whom we have grown up. I would expect the judiciary to respect the executive’s authority and the Parliament’s ability to enact a legislation. I don’t think we should step on each other’s turf.”
Housing and smart cities schemes
Puri denied recent allegations of poor fund utilisation and slow progress of the affordable housing and smart city schemes — made by a parliamentary committee — saying the schemes started in June 2015.
For any scheme as large as affordable housing, he said it takes 15 months to two years to acquire the land just to get started. “By March end, we will be sanctioning 45 lakh homes. The target is 110 lakh homes by 2022,” the minister said.
On smart cities, he said it’s the fastest growing scheme of its scale anywhere in the world, and eight to nine cities selected under the scheme are already in an advanced stage of completion.
He said fund utilisation estimates are based on utilisation certificates, which are issued only a year or two after certain work is completed.
“Projects are not only doing well in terms of implementation, but they are roaring. My real issue is to find the money to meet the enhanced demands. We just set up an affordable housing fund for Rs 60,000 crore from extra-budgetary resources,” he said.
Puri said an apex group for smart cities — comprising various stakeholders — will meet at the end of next month to share their experiences.
Politics over Delhi Metro fare increase
Addressing the fall in the Delhi Metro’s ridership since the fare increase, the minister said it was only to be expected, but added that it would only be a temporary drop, and that the Delhi Metro had the highest capacity utilisation globally — at about 66 per cent.
He emphasised that the fare was increased after eight years on the recommendation of an independent fare fixation committee.
Launching a veiled attack on Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi government, which had opposed the fare increase, Puri said that discussions on serious urban issues must be insulated from “hysterical victimhood and populism”.
“There are a lot of these people playing populist politics. You may issue a statement and say I didn’t mean it, then you apologise,” he said, referring to the recent apologies issued by the Delhi CM.