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Clamp down on illegal constructions

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Several courts have come down heavily on the rampant practice of unauthorised construction in prime Delhi localities but to no avail. It's high time for the judicial system to move beyond prodding, writes SK Srivastava 

In a sudden demolition drive, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation on December 22, 2017, sealed around 50 commercial units in Defence colony and Chattarpur, in contravention to civic laws, thereby violating land use and building norms. This drive has caused greater fear in areas like Greater Kailash I, Green Park and South Extension. This is not surprising, unauthorised construction and encroachments have been going on for decades. The authorities did not come overnight and they carried the demolition drive in full public view and knowledge of civic authorities.

Businesses in these premises continued until 2006, when the Supreme Court directed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to set up a monitoring committee to keep a tab on illegal construction and to demolish and seal unauthorised construction. But how much action was taken?

The apex court stopped the committee from sealing the premises in 2012. The present drive is a revival of the earlier order. The top court said, “The blatant misuse of properties in Delhi for commercial purposes on such a large scale could not take place without the connivance of officers. There must be accountability, not only of those violating the law, but also of errant officers who turn a blind eye to the misuse of residential premises for commercial purposes.” This sounds good, but will words translate into action; send fears among people; make them accountable and punish the guilty?

Earlier, the Delhi High Court too gave a stern message to put a “full stop” to unabated unauthorised constructions in residential colonies. It observed “ineffective regulatory mechanism” and “no transparency” and called for strict action against the officers endorsing confidential reports. A panel too was set up. But the question is: What mechanism can identify what is unauthorised, accountability of the officer concerned and punish them if found guilty? The court’s order may meet the same fate as earlier ones and illegal construction will continue with impunity.

Demolitions are also carried out ‘on complaints’, but it only partly damages the buildings which are re-built after sometime. The process of unauthorised construction continues without much fear; it amounts to self-defeating exercise .What is the point of such demolition exercise when there is no follow up? Here, smart phones can help gather evidence of what is unauthorised and keep a track of those who disobey laws by rebuilding it.

Those who have re-built their buildings keep mum, others ignore — everybody is doing and the space for law abiding citizens is shrinking as they keep suffering. The result is that well-designed colonies are fast turning into glorified slums; 10 feet wide back lanes are reduced to one-man walkways and the drains — a congenial breeding place for diseases like chikungunia and dengue — give rise to another variant of mosquito that causes another disease. While people blame the MCD, people, who indulge in illegal construction, get away easily.

The worst sufferers are the poor people who live in jhuggis.  They are left out in the open. On the other hand, the educated and the affluent get away with money power. Does this reflect complacency of our regulators? Shouldn't our law enforcing agencies be accountable and judicial system proactive beyond just prodding for effective action as deterrent? Isn’t it time to act before unorganised urbanisation takes to alarming proportions?

(The writer is a freelance commentator)




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