At a market in Amar Colony. More than 6,500 shops, godowns and industrial units have been sealed since December 2017. (Express Photo)
“Whosoever gets my shops de-sealed will earn my vote. This Assembly election, I will press NOTA because all parties have made only promises.” This proclamation by Vinod Grover, who ran four shops in Amar Colony, finds an echo at several places where sealing has taken place over the past few years.
With Delhi set to vote on February 8, traders who have borne the brunt of sealing drives are a divided lot. While some said they are “disenchanted” with the BJP-led Centre and municipal corporations and will look for alternatives, a few asserted that they will continue to back the party “for the nation” and a “triple-engine government”.
The trader community in the capital has traditionally backed BJP.
As many as 6,682 shops, local shopping centres (LSCs), marble godowns and industrial units have been sealed since December 2017 by the three municipal corporations on the direction of the Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee. They were shut for violations in floor area ratio (FAR), land use, conversion charge, environment and fire safety.
The Indian Express visited eight markets and a residential area where industrial units were forcibly shut. The history of most of these markets in South and North Delhi can be traced to the Partition, when refugees from Pakistan were allotted land here.
Almost all traders The Indian Express spoke to conceded that sealing will dent the BJP’s vote bank and may benefit the AAP.
At least 350 shops were shuttered in Amar Colony in March 2018 for encroachment. The market was deserted, with many shopkeepers selling women’s apparel from the steps of their closed shops.
Grover, one of the affected traders, sold snacks outside his four shops. Another was making strings of flowers at a temple. Most of the shop owners have rented shops in other areas. "It's been two years. People have lost their livelihood. After sealing, all parties visited and promised to get shops de-sealed, but nothing has happened," said Satish Kumar (59), sitting outside his closed shop lined with mannequins and kurtis suspended from a string on display. He said the AAP has an edge in the market.
Another market that came under the court's radar was Defence Colony. Manoj, a grocery trader, said: “My sale has slumped by 70%. The BJP destroyed the market. It used to be abuzz on a Saturday; now not even a bird flutters its wings here."
In June 2018, the Centre had notified amendments to the Master Plan-2021 to legalise LSCs and other establishments. However, the notification is yet to be implemented as the case is sub judice.
"First it was demonetisation, then GST and now sealing. In Delhi, illegal colonies have been legalised and legal shops are sealed. Do you see justice in it? The Centre has no willpower to implement changes in the Master Plan. A lot of traders in the area are disenchanted with the BJP," said Ashok Sakhuja (63), president of Meharchand Market Welfare Association.
Some of the ire is directed at the AAP too. “The Chief Minister would sit on hunger strikes but in our case, he did not stand with us. He had promised that if our shops were not opened in a week, he would start a hunger strike,” said a shopkeeper in Hauz Khas.
But BJP still finds takers in a few pockets. In parts of East Delhi, where small industrial units were sealed for violation of land use and green norms, residents welcomed the crackdown. “Earlier, it was noisy. The air was foul. Everything changed for the better after civic officials shut these units,” said S K Sharma (48), a resident of Vishwas Nagar where 70 industrial units were closed.
Brijesh Goyal, president of AAP's trade wing, said, “Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri claimed that they had solved the matter. But around 9,000 shops are still closed. The Centre has to find a permanent solution. A sword is hanging on traders.”
He dismissed allegations that his party did not stand by traders. “Our MLAs took part in anti-sealing protests. I myself led some of them.”
The BJP rejected claims that sealing may lead to a split in traders’ votes. “Traders were upset with the BJP, but not anymore. Shops were sealed on the direction of the Supreme Court. The BJP is not responsible for it. We have done everything that we could,” said BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Goel.
Delhi Congress spokesperson Mukesh Sharma said: “If we come to power, we will ensure all roads in affected markets are commercialised. We have been leading a drive called Nyay Yudh against sealing. It was discontinued because of elections.”