New Delhi: Six years ago, Ramesh Gupta was a successful business man — he had a flourishing business of electronic goods and ready-made garments.
One of his shops for electronic goods was in Khanna Market in Lodhi Colony and another for ready-made garments in the Defence Colony market.
But now both are shut: Thanks to the sealing drive conducted by the BJP-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in 2017 on the orders of the Supreme Court for alleged violations of municipal norms — in terms of Floor Area Ratio, fire safety and anti-pollution rules.
After both his shops were sealed, Gupta rented a shop in Safdarjung market to sell electronic goods but his business isn’t what it used to be. He said he has suffered a loss of around Rs 25 lakh in the last two years.
“I am a BJP supporter. I voted for the BJP in 2014 (Lok Sabha elections) for business and growth, but the party destroyed the businesses of traders,” he said.
“The BJP government is at the Centre, they are ruling the MCDs. If they can bring legislation to regularise unauthorised colonies then why can’t they bring legislation to open sealed shops? I am not happy with their efforts. Who will cover my loss? My loans’ interest is soaring,” Gupta rued.
Same is the case with Subhas Chopra, who had a shop in Meharchand market that was sealed in the 2017 drive.
His anger is quite palpable.
“Forget Kejriwal, he doesn’t control either DDA (Delhi Development Authority) or the MCD or police. Modiji has all three (under his control). We met Hardeep Singh Puriji (Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs) for help. He assured that all shops will be de-sealed but nothing happened,” Chopra said.
Asked who he will vote for in this election, he said: “We are caught between a frying pan and a burning stove.”
‘Central govt is punishing the traders’
Sealing of shops conducted across the national capital by a Supreme Court-monitored committee in 2017 to crack the whip on unauthorised constructions is one of biggest issues weighing on the minds of the traders in this election, scheduled Saturday.
As many as 6,682 shops, local godowns and industrial units have been sealed since December 2017 for alleged violations of municipal norms.
In June 2018, the central government had notified amendments in the Master Plan of Delhi 2021, giving relief to traders from sealing being done by the SC-monitored panel.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs notified the amendment in the MPD-2021 after going through the recommendations made by a DDA board of enquiry and hearing committee. But the notification is yet to be implemented.
“First they destroyed businesses by demonetisation, then by implementing GST and then by sealing shops. Now the economy is going downwards and there is no consumer, no demand,” said Vinod Gupta, a trader in Safdarjung market.
Gupta said the central government is punishing the traders and not helping in generating employment in the country.
“The Centre has the power to bring bills to de-seal the closed units. Modiji says ‘we have to make a $5 trillion economy’. Is this the way we will achieve it? I will not vote for the BJP this time. I have voted for Modiji in the Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
‘Hafta, inspector raj’
Rajiv Jaiswal, who has a small garment shop in Chandni Chowk, said the GST made the lives of small traders and businessmen very difficult.
“We daily fight with the police. They demand hafta from us every week and month… new inspector raj is created. Police chase us as if we are running with their money,” he said.
Ashwin Gupta, who has a rented shop of Chinese toys in Chandni Chowk, said that sales have taken a beating by at least 70 per cent in the last one year and GST is one of the reasons.
“There are no customers in the market. If this situation persists, we have to move from here. I am paying a rent of Rs 50,000 (for the shop) and not making profit to sustain it,” he added.
Govt’s bid to woo traders
The numerically-strong trading community accounts for at least 2 million votes in Delhi.
The central government has tried to woo the community by several provisions in this Union Budget.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one of his rallies earlier this week, also tried to appease dissatisfied traders.
“There was a complaint from traders, including Delhi, that they face pressure from tax authorities. So we started an Indirect Tax Settlement Scheme last year. After this, there was a demand that such a scheme be started for Direct Taxes. In this budget, we fulfilled this,” he had said.
Despite anger, AAP not first choice of traders
Although traders are angry with the BJP over GST and sealing of shops, the AAP is not their preferred choice.
The AAP has formed various traders’ committees to address the grievances of the traders.
But the traders said some from their community will vote for Arvind Kejriwal out of anger for the BJP, but they also said the solution doesn’t lie with him.
“Kejriwal has announced that he will sit on a hunger strike if shops are not de-sealed in seven days (in 2017), but he never came. What purpose will be served if we vote for him?” said Vimal Gupta, a shopkeeper at Safdarjung market.