The unseemly events in the capital in the wake of traders' protest against sealing of their premises and the three-day hartal show up the country as "a noisy democracy," warts and all.
It appears that the Delhi Government, the Ministry of Urban Development and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) are vying with one another to pass the buck for the street violence, when merchants and organised traders gave vent to their fury by stoning buses, burning tyres, PCO booths and tearing down road-dividers, blocking traffic and causing maximum difficulty to the common man.
No doubt, Parliament enacted the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 to stay sealing/demolition activities for one year from May 19, 2006 against the apex court order for sealing of residential premises for misuse from February 16. The Union Government, while recognising the clamant demand for additional commercial space, made amendments in the Master Plan 2001 on September 7, 2006, and authorised local bodies to notify those stretches of roads where large-scale commercialisation has supervened as ``commercial/mixed land-use/pedestrian shopping streets''. The MCD identified and notified 2,183 stretches of roads under this amendment, exempting them from sealing.
By this notification, benefit has been bestowed on those establishments, which fall on the 2,183 stretches of roads, except those that had filed affidavits before the Supreme Court, in February/March 2006 to stop the misuse.
With regard to those which had filed affidavits but are covered under the notifications of September 7 and 15, the Government is approaching the apex court for relief.
Alongside, benefit has also been extended to small shops (up to 20 sq m) falling into 22 categories, catering to the daily needs of the people in residential areas, on the recommendation of the Monitoring Committee formed by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, both the Ministry of Urban Development and the MCD moved separate petitions seeking relief for 44,000 odd-traders on the ground that they be treated on a par with those who have benefited by the Ministry's twin notifications declaring 2,183 streets as mixed use and commercial.
Even as the different wings of the Government apparently tried their best to minimise the grievances of the traders, it remains that the commercialisation of residential premises had been going on in connivance with the authorities, making a mockery of all rules on land-use policies. One shudders to think of what would happen to all those special economic zones (SEZs) mushrooming in the country if, some time in the future, they are detected as illegally evolved on land purported for farming and not for non-farming activities!
The irony is that the country is debating allowing 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector; the MNC giants might subsume all the petty trading activity, the local dukandars' muscle power and their ability to hold the State economy to ransom notwithstanding.
In the three-days of hartal, not only did the merchants lose their income and the authorities their tax revenues, even petty vendors of vegetables and fruits, with makeshift shops had to wind up, losing heavily in the bargain because of the perishable nature of their produce.
One can only hope that this type of allowing haphazard developments to take root and then breaking up the structure, regardless of the repercussion it might have on the economy, in general, and the players, in particular, is not repeated lest it deters potential investors domestic and foreign.