Boxed in

Parliament is unable to pass legislation to undo the verdict of the Supreme Court, nor can it provide relief, even though the sealing operation threatens the lives of over two million people in Delhi

 


Vijay Sanghvi

The sealing of illegal commercial establishments operating from residential areas has become an acid test for parliament and parliamentarians, more so for the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP. Others have no stake in the Capital region as they have no existence worth the name in Delhi.

The Supreme Court shows no sign of relenting on its order for sealing or providing relief, more to the two national parties than to traders who have taken to the street to protest. The SC is bound by the law and the prevailing rules clearly say that no commercial establishments can be operated from residential areas. At the most, the SC can give a little more time to the traders to shift their businesses elsewhere.

The SC has further hardened its attitude because it saw in new legislation an attempt to undo the verdict of the SC. It was an attempt by parliament to act as a super arbiter over and above the SC. The threat by the Union Minister to bring ordinance or place the new legislation in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to debar the SC from striking it down, was enough for the SCto harden its attitude and reject the appeal for review and relief.

Parliament has been caught in an unenviable situation as it cannot pass any legislation that will undo the verdict, nor can it provide relief, even though the sealing threatens the lives of over two million people in Delhi. Most of them are past middle-age and cannot hope to find alternative means of livelihood. Besides, the sealing operations, if carried out to the fullest extent, may lead to the collapse of the supply system and services. These establishments are needed to sustain supplies to meet the increased demands of the fast growing numbers in the capital.

The UPA government has explored all possible solutions but is now confronting the reality that it can do nothing except wait for the SC to review its decision; the government is impotent right now.

The sealing drama also exposed the hollowness of the political system. A faction led by the state party chief of the Congress began using the issue to berate the chief minister, while the main opposition moved in to encash on the misery of the masses and whip up an emotional outburst against the Congress government. The BJP not only joined in the agitation of the traders but also encouraged it to turn violent, disrupting life and services in the capital.

The drama is a challenge not only to the Congress party that happens to be in the seat of power, both in the union and in the state, but to the entire system. The question is what should take precedence: the rule of the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court or the popular sentiments demonstrated by those whose lives are being affected? In the din generated by the sealing, the main culprits are escaping without any punishment. The Municipal Corporation officers turned their eyes deliberately away from the illegal usage of the residential areas for years - because it helped them to mint unaccounted for moolah from traders and shopkeepers.

The chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Authority recently pointed out that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was equally responsible for the mess as it failed in its primary responsibility of developing and releasing land for commercial purposes. But no one is asking the DDA officials to account for their dereliction of duties and primary responsibility. In thirty years, the DDA released only 16 per cent of earmarked land for commercial usage. It clung to the remaining 84 per cent without any valid reason. But it does not cross the minds of parliamentarians that these johnnies, who collected not only their salaries but also made unaccounted for profits, must be taken to task through a detailed debate in order to fix the responsibility for the mess in which they find themselves today.

The BJP is enjoying the discomfiture of the Congress Party in the hope that this will help it to come to power in the next election. Obviously, it has not crossed their minds that they too will face similar discomfiture, as the issue will not be washed away with the change of the party in power. As for the ruling party, it does not have clue as to how to console two million voters who are in imminent danger of losing their incomes. Others have no interest to muscle in as they have no stakes in the electoral politics of Delhi. Hence, the price is to be paid by traders, their employees and their families.