The ongoing crackdown on unauthorised commercial buildings in Delhi has not only caused unrest among traders, many of whom have had their businesses partially or fully sealed, it has also led to disquiet in the Bharatiya Janata Party.
This is because the Capital’s three municipal corporations, which are carrying out the sealing drive on the recommendation of a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, are ruled by the BJP. And the city’s land-owning and housing agency, the Delhi Development Authority, is chaired by the lieutenant governor of Delhi, who is a representative of the BJP-led Central government.
Along with the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government, the civic bodies and the Delhi Development Authority have been pulled up by the Supreme Court for allowing such unauthorised construction to come up in Delhi in the first place.
The sealing drive – which commenced in December – has created differences in the Delhi BJP with some of its members accusing the state leadership of failing to find a solution so far.
“It looks like the Delhi BJP does not have the right kind of leadership to deal with the issue,” said a Delhi BJP leader who did not wish to be identified. “At this juncture, a moratorium is the solution for the aggrieved traders. The party has to work on that instead of focusing on amending Delhi’s Master Plan to find a way out, and convince the [Supreme Court-appointed] committee accordingly.”
The Master Plan is a blueprint for the planning and expansion of the Capital.
The BJP leader explained that a moratorium in this case would mean a stay on the sealing drive and allowing traders to resume their businesses in the existing premises with a promise that they will not extend their shops. “Meanwhile, the party should start focussing on finding long-term solution to address the issue,” the leader added.
Notably, most of the dissenting voices in the BJP belong to leaders who are themselves traders. And the unrest is something the BJP could do without in the run-up to general elections early next year.
Crackdown not new
The sealing drive in Delhi has a history. In fact, it began with a Supreme Court order in 2006 to seal all unauthorised construction in the city. The court also appointed a committee to look into the matter. The trading community protested vociferously then too and municipal officials out on the job faced several tense situations, including incidents of firing by groups of traders.
The crackdown continued till the Supreme Court halted the exercise in January 2012. This was because the Delhi government, then led by the Congress, had tabled the 2021 Master Plan that promised to regularise some of the city’s illegal colonies and properties. However, the court asked the monitoring committee to continue to file reports on the status of unauthorised construction in the city.
In 2017, taking note of the grim picture painted by the committee in its reports, the court ordered that the sealing drive be resumed in December.
Since then, traders have been asking the BJP to pass a Bill in the current session of Parliament to stop the sealing drive. “What other option do we have?” asked Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders. “It is one of our primary demands that the lawmakers pass a Bill in the current session of Parliament and stop the sealing.”
Delhi’s traders have also organised a demonstration at the Ramlila Maidan on March 28.
No clarity on solutions
The Delhi BJP seems to be looking to the Centre for a solution. Praveen Shankar Kapoor, spokesperson for the party’s city unit, said, “No solution can be worked out without sending the attorney general to the Supreme Court.” He added, “He [attorney general] will have to plead the court for mercy in the matter and assure the court that no further commercial activity that is unauthorised in nature will be tolerated. He should also urge for time in order to find long-term solutions.”
Last week, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri told PTI that the government needs to take some hard decisions to make the city liveable. He also said the Delhi Development Authority had “every right” to amend the Master Plan to solve the city’s problems. Blaming earlier regimes both in Delhi and at the Centre for the mess, Puri also said the Centre had analysed the problem and formulated substantive proposals to rectify the situation.
However, he did not elaborate on what those proposals were and how they would be implemented when the Supreme Court has, through an order issued on March 6, stayed all proposed amendments in the Master Plan – which has been amended as many as 248 times.
Puri’s remarks have not gone down well with many in the party’s city unit. “There are solutions to the problem but what can be done when the ones who are taking the calls do not want to see them?” asked the Delhi BJP leader.
Another Delhi BJP leader faulted the party’s state leadership. “The problem lies with the fact that the top leadership in the Delhi unit consists of people who do not belong to Delhi, do not know Delhi that well.”
The Delhi BJP is led by Lok Sabha MP Manoj Tiwari. So far, Tiwari has limited his comments to “the party is looking out for solutions”. He did not respond to phone calls or text messages from Scroll.in seeking his comment on the differences within the party.
The Delhi BJP leadership’s response to the sealing drive has also been in stark contrast to the Aam Aadmi Party government, which has been protesting the crackdown since December.
Tiwari did not attend an all-party meeting convened by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal last week to discuss the problem. But on Wednesday, he joined Kejriwal and Congress leaders in a meeting with members of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee. The political leaders urged the committee members to recommend a stay on the sealing drive, but received no assurance from them.