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Delhi traders move SC against sealing drive conducted by court-appointed panel

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Not convinced by affidavits filed by agencies, the Supreme Court directed that its three-member committee seal illegal commercial spaces in residential colonies.

New Delhi: Traders affected by the controversial sealing drive of buildings going on in the national capital have moved the Supreme Court.

A three-member apex court-monitored committee had inspected several markets in the city, including the upscale Defence Colony, Khan Market and Hauz Khas and sealed many establishments in December last year. The committee had said that those sealed were residential properties used for commercial activity without proper authorisation.

In a brief hearing Wednesday, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) assured the court that the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 will be amended soon. Through the amendment, the government is likely to regularise commercial establishments that are now in dispute.

More than 48 businessmen, including a few marble traders in Chhattarpur area, have filed petitions in the apex court against the committee’s actions. They allege that their premises were sealed despite having paid conversion charges to the DDA.

DDA has also done away with the statutory requirement of a 45-day period for inviting proposals and objections for amendments to the Master Plan so that the amendments are brought in before the next court hearing. The five-day deadline it brought instead of 45 days ends Thursday.

The committee comprising former adviser to the Election Commission K.J. Rao, Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) chairman Bhure Lal and retired Major General Som Jhingan was revived in December last year by the court, almost 12 years after it was first set up.

Genesis of the committee

The issue of the unauthorised use of Delhi’s residential areas came under the court’s scanner way back in 1985. Environmentalist M.C. Mehta had moved the court to stop polluting industrial activity in residential areas. While the court addressed that from 1985-2005, the focus shifted to non-industrial commercial activity in residential areas from 2006 onwards.

Consequently, the apex court appointed a committee which went on a major sealing drive in 2006. Unhappy with the top court’s intervention, the central government enacted the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 to nullify the committee’s actions.

The law stayed the sealing for a year initially but extended it several times thereafter. Recently, amendments were brought in on 31 December by minister of state for housing and urban affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri.

But the apex court itself had stayed its order giving teeth to the committee in 2012 after it was content that the committee has created a climate of acceptance of the civic body rules.

But the apex court, while hearing a separate plea against unauthorised construction in Mehrauli area decided that the committee must be brought back. It has asked the DDA, Land and Development Office, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and New Delhi Municipal Council to respond and tell the court why the 2006 committee must not be revived.

Senior advocate ADN Rao who has been an amicus curiae (a friend of the court) for over a decade also recommended reviving the committee.

On 15 December last year, not convinced by affidavits filed by the agencies, the Supreme Court directed that its three-member committee must look into fresh complaints and seal illegal spaces in the capital until further orders.

A bench comprising justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta was also furious that the government had brought in laws to bypass the court orders but had not worked towards solving the issues.

The court also took serious note of the manner in which the Master Plan was amended.

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