Demolition Politics

The anti-encroachment drive in Delhi may be in public interest but the implementation is rather callous

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Delhi has been the target of a demolition drive over the past five months. While demolitions are being carried out throughout the country, the problem is a lot more serious in the capital. April 24, 2018 marked the formation of the Special Task Force (STF) to remove encroachments and to ensure that all buildings followed safety measures. Following the Supreme Court’s order in Delhi to reduce road congestion and create walking space by reducing squatters, the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry constituted the 13-member STF on 25 April.

The STF is a creation of the Delhi Municipal Corporation (DMC) under orders of the central government. The Supreme Court passed the order to keep up with The Master Plan-2021 according to which by 2021, there should be a uniform floor area ratio (FAR) for shops and residential buildings. Since April 26, the Municipal Corporations of South, North and East Delhi have deployed earth movers to remove permanent encroachments and roadside stalls. As of 25 May, the DMC removed about 4,500 temporary and permanent structures, impounded over 2,500 vehicles and seized over 7,000 articles in three and a half weeks.

This has led to huge protests by traders all across the city and a shutdown in prominent markets of Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar, Connaught Place, Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazar, Laxmi Nagar, South Extension, Greater Kailash, Sarojini Nagar and Uttam Nagar which have been of no avail so far. The shutdown has been initiated by organisations such as Chamber of Trade Industries (CTI), Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), Indian Industries and Trade Group, and Federation of Trade Association. Delhi has a 30% trader population who are the largest contributors to the state’s GDP. Around 20 industrial areas and 20,000 supporters have joined the shutdown call as per the Indian Express. Reports also say that CAIT has demanded the state government to pass a moratorium bill to stop the demolitions.

At March-end, the total loss had amounted to over Rs.1,800 crore and the figure has only risen since then. While the Supreme Court has issued the order, it has still called the government’s implementation 'callous'. The apex court believes that encroachments of the poor are being targeted and has even consulted the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on this.  Apart from this, many believe that the problem of congestion can be solved through dedicated parking zones for vehicles and utility zones for vendors to help them instead of leaving them on their own after destroying their livelihood options.

This haphazard encroachment drive has resulted in a blame game between authorities as well as between the Centre and the Opposition. There had been similar efforts to remove encroachments in 2006. During that time the drive had turned violent and had to be stopped after they resulted in the death of four people. That order had been passed by the then Congress government and was opposed by the BJP, which was in Opposition at that time. Now the ruling party is following in those very footsteps. As always, this step by the current government has not been implemented properly even if it is in public interest.