New Delhi: In another 10 days’ time, the Delhi Development Authority would submit before the Supreme Court the amendments it proposes to bring in Master Plan 2021 to give ‘relief’ to the shopkeepers who are running their businesses in violation of building rules and regulations.
According to the definition given by the Delhi Development Authority itself, “A Master Plan is the long term perspective plan for guiding the sustainable planned development of the city. This document lays down the planning guidelines, policies, development code and space requirements for various socio-economic activities supporting the city population during the plan period. It is also the basis for all infrastructure requirements.”
Contrary to the definition given above Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 2021 has hardly had the opportunity to provide the city with “the long term perspective plan for guiding the sustainable planned development of the city.” Such are the interests of people that MPD 2021 has ended up being the most mauled planning document.
It was supposed to be first notified in 2001 to give the document 20 years to develop the city according to a plan. It did not come on time and was notified much later. It became functional under its present form after the notification of amendments in the Plan 2007, which diluted many of the provisions for a “planned development” of the city.
The 2007 amendments were brought to give relief to the traders and shopkeepers following the sealing drive undertaken against shops and commercial establishments in non-commercial areas by the SC-monitored committee led by KJ Rao, former advisor to the Election Commissioner, Bhure Lal, Chairman, EPCA and Major General (Retd) Som Jhingan.
The amendments were then piloted with the Congress-led governments at the Centre and in the State putting their heads together to give relief. The move albeit came in only after the party fared miserably in the municipal polls in the spring of 2007, which were held under the shadow of then ongoing sealing drive.
Why the two governments did not act earlier had a political explanation. The Congress-led MCD 2002-2007 was dominated by then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s bête noire Rambabu Sharma. The apex court fiat came as a boon in disguise for Dikshit to emaciate Sharma politically. Soon after the defeat in the municipal polls Sharma was replaced as the Delhi Congress president. Thereafter, Dikshit got the amendments in place and went to win another assembly term in 2008 and Congress all the seven Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
Politicians have an elephantine memory and they for sure have not forgotten how the sealing drive 10 years ago sealed many a political careers; thus the rush for passing the buck between the BJP-led municipal corporations and the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi Government. Lacking the political finesse of Dikshit and meticulousness of Ajay Maken, it’s another matter that relative greenhorns in city politics – Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP president Manoj Tiwari the other day ended up coming to blows at a meeting which was supposed to have found solution to the problem.
But is giving relief to those who have violated building laws a solution to the problem? The Supreme Court doesn’t believe so. When told by the civic body's counsel, during a hearing on the matter a few days back, that fresh set of amendments to the MPD 2021 were on their way, the Supreme Court bench of Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta bewailed the move and said that there has to be some law to govern the city. The bench had mentioned, "Are you (DDA) looking after the interest of the people of Delhi?"
In a terse observation, the bench had said that “everybody in Delhi was just keeping their eyes closed” and waiting for disaster to happen. “You (civic bodies) have learnt nothing from Uphaar fire tragedy and incidents in Bawana and Kamala Mills,” the bench had mentioned.
This gives rise to the next question, why was everybody rushing to the aid of the law violators?
The governments, which have not bothered to find landfills to manage city’s ever growing waste, are burning midnight oil to ensure that the shops in up-market Defence Colony and Khan Market do not shut down. The plan is to regularise the extra floor built in these markets despite the cinders of Kamala Mills fire tragedy in Mumbai still to cool.
Real estate development is integral to Delhi’s both trade and politics, in which the interests of powers that be are entrenched. Pick any infamous public tragedy and you would learn that place was illegally run – by it Uphaar theatre where 60 people were suffocated or Tamarind Court restaurant run by a celebrity where Jessica Lal, a bar attendant, was shot dead for refusing a drink to a customer.
Delhi, the seat of Parliament, has seldom pushed for a law to cleanse the city of its ills. On the contrary, it has got the laws changed to ensure that the cesspool that the city is today remains that way for ever. Value of real estate indeed matter!
(The writer is a political commentator. Views are personal)