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Legalise Sainik Farms PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 May 2006 00:00
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Most citizens of the Capital who saw the courts as the last ray of hope when it came to checking illegal structures in their colonies, and the rampant misuse of residential land for commercial purposes (I’m not talking of small kiranas, but car showrooms in colonies), have every reason to feel cheated now that the government has come up with a law that stops all demolitions of these structures. Indeed, so brazen is the country’s political class that after the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the BJP’s MP from South Delhi, VK Malhotra, had the gumption to say (see The Indian Express, Newsline, May 13) that the Bill was nothing but criminal negligence since, hold your breath, it did nothing to compensate those whose houses had been demolished and shops sealed in the period when the courts had not been prevented from acting on their own! It’s akin to protests from black marketers and smugglers who’d been prosecuted before Mr Chidambaram, in 1997, made it possible for them to go legit by paying just a 5-6 per cent tax on their black money (the tax on legal income at that stage was around 35 per cent)—it must be said in their favour, though, that they made no such protestations.
 
Two arguments have been made by the political class that is touting the Bill. One, the moratorium is just for a year. Two, it is not possible to clean up the mess created over the last 58 years in just a few months, the way the courts desired. As for the first, the problem is that the government’s credibility on this count is close to zero, and not just this government, but even the NDA. Let’s not forget what happened to the Delhi Rent Act, which sought to evict tenants, like the shopkeepers in Connaught Place, who paid a rental of Rs 100 or less on properties worth several crores and refused to vacate them, even passing on their tenancies to their children—the Act was passed by Parliament, even signed by the President, but never gazetted because the political class got swayed by the trader community even then. So, what’s to prevent the one-year Bill getting extended all over again?
 
The second argument that the government needs time to clean up the mess is a valid one. It is also correct that the reason for the mess is that the DDA, which was in charge of developing commercial property in the Capital, developed just 16 per cent of what was required (according to Ajay Maken, who is the minister of state for urban development), and so it was obvious shops would come up in residential areas. And that is why Maken came up with his mixed land use plan (more on that, in a minute). But for citizens to believe the government is serious about doing something this time around, once again, it needs to prove its credibility.
 
It is obvious, for instance, that none of this could have happened without the connivance of the MCD officials as well as various politicians. Yet, apart from transferring some MCD officials, and some suspensions, what action has got taken? Frankly, if an MCD official has made crores by allowing illegal buildings to come up, he’d pay to be allowed to get away with just a transfer or even a suspension. It will be argued that nothing can be done till a thorough probe is ordered, but surely these officials would have a lot of cash and benami properties by now—you hear of raids on out-of-favour politicians, but none on the corrupt MCD officials. And, right through the period the courts were directing a reluctant MCD to demolish more structures, those belonging to politicians, of both the BJP and the Congress, never got touched—indeed, the courts were forced to comment on this, following which some token action was taken.
 
The other problem relates to the mixed land use that Maken has suggested—presumably it is to implement this that the government wants another year. While the plan correctly identifies that parking is the real objection that residents have to shops existing in their localities (water and electricity are major ones, too!), the solution is simply not good enough. The solution proposed is that shops be legalised if they provide two car-parking spaces for every 1,000 sq feet of space they occupy.
 
One departmental store in South Extension in south Delhi, for instance, occupies around 25,000 square feet and during rush hours, the 70-75 cars its customers park in the colony make it a living hell—what’s being proposed is that the store create just 25 more car-parking spaces. The global norm, by the way, is to build 4 car-parking bays for each 1,000 square feet.
 
Apart from the low norm being used to regularise this illegal use of land, it’s not clear as to why the year-long moratorium has been sought. In many areas, the illegal shops are inside colonies (the mixed-use notification says mixed use will be allowed only in roads that that are external to the colony) and in others, such as in South Extension, there simply isn’t enough free space to create fresh parking of even the limited type the mixed-use notification plans. Maybe the moratorium will be used to further dilute even this.
 
Postscript: Since the government does plan to eventually legalise every illegal construction, why not legalise colonies like Sainik Farms? At least residents there won’t have to keep making payoffs to prevent the bulldozers from razing them to the ground.

 

 

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