Shutting shop

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Shutting shop

Closure of commercial establishments across Delhi has taken place for various violations

It is a sad reflection of reality that shop closures and sealings in high-profile markets get outsize attention in the media. But sealing of commercial establishments conducted by Delhi’s various municipalities in several prominent central and south Delhi markets under the direction of the Environmental Protection Control Agency (EPCA) for the National Capital Region, have been making national headlines. This could be because a bar that several young journalists treated as a second home got sealed in Defence Colony Market, or thanks to shops in Delhi’s tony Khan Market where expatriates and Delhi’s swish set mingle getting sealed or because some of Delhi’s best eateries and boutiques in Meherchand market had to down shutters or even because marble shops in Delhi’s Chattarpur where clients from across the country get the vaunted stone for their homes were demolished. Yes, the haphazard application of rules across the Delhi to any and all illegalities needs to stop, but the EPCA which was constituted on the orders of the Supreme Court is just doing its job. And it most places there has been little fightback as landlords and shopkeepers are well aware that they have been breaking the law.

The EPCA is doing a very simple thing that needs to be done across India -- enforcing the law. In one market, where establishments were only supposed to have a single (ground) floor, shopkeepers added one, sometimes two additional floors and even built basements in gross violation of all rules and permissions. But those who leased or rented those buildings, whether they were fancy brands or public-sector banks, also enabled this.

Responsible brands and organisations taking on rent premises which, it was obvious even to the naked eye followed no bylaws or regulations including fire safety ones in some of the markets, wilfully broke the law gave out the signal that anything goes. It does not. Of course the civic authorities by allowing such wilful law-breaking right under their noses in high-profile markets almost certainly in exchange for bribes are as responsible as those who broke the laws, in fact maybe they deserve a greater share of the blame. Indeed, while shops can and should be sealed if illegal, there needs to be an investigation and officials should lose their jobs or even be jailed for corruption and negligence. The rod cannot be applied unfairly or selectively.

The dangers of illegal construction were clearly evident from the deadly fire in Mumbai where several young people who had gone to celebrate a birthday party had their lives snuffed out. Ignoring the law has become a sport in India, whether it is traffic violations or illegal constructions. But the reason for that is because Indian authorities are corrupt to the core. So when the law is being enforced, even if the enforcement is selective for the time being, we cannot crib and cry about it. But if there is one valid complaint that these establishments have it is that they should be given some warning so as to be able to remove inventory. However, it is evident that the EPCA is not doing that for fear of stoking violence or calls being made to influential people to prevent action. The EPCA acting under the auspices of the Supreme Court has taken the municipal authorities in Delhi by surprise as they are unable to help their ‘friends’ but political parties are trying to pressurise them to stop doing their work. The EPCA should remain steadfast and finish the job. Because the only way to make India a law-abiding country is to exhibit zero tolerance for law-breakers.

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