Delhi is an urban law breaker’s paradise. Nobody violates the city’s Master Plan more than the government. Against the backdrop of decibels over industry closure and regularisation, Geeta Dewan Verma wonders where Delhi is headed

The latest of Delhi’s Grand Regularisation Melas is on, as is debate about it. To regularize or not to regularize industries, slums, etc, that have come up in violation of Delhi Master Plan is the question. Or is it?

Over 1 lakh industries in Delhi are in places not meant for them because over 2000 Ha of dispersed industrial space has not been developed according to Plan (not like in Bawana); Census-2001 has found 4 lakh families in slums because over 2000 Ha of dispersed space has not been used for 4.25 lakh cheap plots according to Plan (not like in slum-like resettlement); etc. For half a century land in Delhi has been compulsorily acquired only for development according to Plan, central government responsibility and sole mandate of Delhi Development Authority, DDA, that has all tiers of government duly represented on it.

Whether uses anticipated by but not provided for according to Plan might be regularised is not question but divide-and-loot red herring to divert attention from misuse of their land. The question is if this Great Terrain Robbery by the state might be regularised. The temerity to open such a question to debate is what asks – Whither Delhi?

In 2003 CBI had caught a scam at Plan minding levels in DDA, which13th Lok Sabha did not debate. Parliamentary Standing Committee for Urban Development invited views, which it did not hear. So-called “guidelines” for the Master Plan were issued, with no basis in law, to condone and perpetuate huge distortions in Plan allocations for different uses, with deleterious implications for equity and efficiency guarantees – a scam that continues amidst anti-Plan discourse, inclusive of the so-called pro-Plan position that views the Plan as a penal code to punish citizens rather than as document of citizens’ entitlements and framework for city solutions and freedom from conflict that governments are duty-bound to enforce and under no circumstances violate.

Supreme Court order of 07.05.04 for industries has upheld Plan provisions and processes. It directed closure as per a schedule starting in four months, but did not preclude the Plan solution. UPA government’s commitments for SSI and employment did call for viewing the schedule as one for enforcing the statutory solution by making available forthwith to industries their full range of options (in planned industrial / redevelopment space, in commercial space and in regulated mixed use space) and, by extension, for key role by DDA. This option was sought by industries and by planners. But, come September, Delhi Government assumed charge of compliance through the closure option – without powers to penalize Plan violations, with typical arbitrariness. Both BJP and Left rallied around to demand what Delhi Government had proposed in 1999 and the Apex Court had rejected while giving time-bound directions in 2004 after waiting five years for proof of feasibility – regularisation.

The rally-tally made central government sit up and take note, albeit only of opportunity to hijack the consensus. Area MP from New Delhi (not East or Outer Delhi, where most industries are) was fielded to paint a saffron-red sunset. He did point out that on-going sealing, basis of the regularisation-consensus, was not called for even by court. Meanwhile, units had been unlawfully sealed and in apprehension of sealing three persons had died. Their obituaries, like those of the children who died in Bawana after eviction from Pushta – indeed, the requiem for Delhi – is being written in brick and mortar of wilful projects on public land denied to people and in synergistic dark (not saffron, nor red) schemes to downsize Plan rights and jeopardize Plan solutions for the present and for posterity.

A striking piece in this requiem, first stop in this Grand Regularisation Mela, is metro IT Park on riverbed. On September 18, with all starting to debate options of review petition, ordinance, enabling provision and whatnot to regularise industries, DDA issued Public Notice (mandatory u/s.11A of its Act for any Plan modification) to invite for 30 days objections and suggestions on central government’s proposal to change land use of 6 Ha from riverbed to commercial (IT Park) – a proposal, in fact, to regularise the Delhi Government Delhi Metro joint venture encroachment on riverbed.

Work on the IT Park started in November 2003, ie, after the Court order to clear all riverbed encroachments. On 28.01.04 Parliamentary Standing Committee visited metro sites and on 05.02.04 Chief Minister visited and lauded work on IT park. On 13.02.04 Pushta clearance began. As slum after slum fell to the encroachment clearance drive, floor upon floor was added to the IT Park encroachment. In April Public Notice was issued to allow property development on up to 3 Ha at all metro sites. In September Public Notice was issued to regularize IT Park (6 Ha). On October 15, amidst renewed regularisation-consensus, was reported construction, continuing regardless of Public Notice. On November 1 were reported likelihood of completion by end year and plans to woo IT majors and showcase at international trade fair from November 14 – regardless now of over 200 s.11A objections and suggestions (including for clearance in view of other encroachment clearance and clearance by Children’s Day in view of deaths of children in Bawana).

The worse-than-slum resettlement scheme and the excessive concentration industrial relocation scheme in Bawana are both violative of the Plan. On October 27, while the mess it had made of the industries’ affair was being sorted out at highest levels, Delhi Government reportedly got an award for proper relocation of industries – at an international Infrastructure Business Summit & Expo in Mumbai, supported by eleven GoI ministries and organised by one India-Tech Foundation that promotes, among others, IT industry. Unplanned projects sanctified by such corporate consortia awards include also Delhi Secretariat, occupying space not meant for government office in the Plan, honoured on June 7 with Indian Building Congress award. From this Plan-violation, Delhi government had just watched, claiming helplessness, war-like eviction of Plan-violating slums below and has been directing since, without jurisdiction, action against Plan-violating industries. Both drives in name of court and environment were marked by enthusiasm matched by indifference to court orders against government’s own projects in violation of planning and environment law. Flowing now from Plan-violating Secretariat are presumed-regularised statements about Plan-violating state projects alongside other regularisation promises, already broken – by assurance on affidavit to continue unlawful closure of industries, reported on November 3, and by CM direction to MCD byelaws reforming committee to frame byelaws for slums (despite Apex Court’s scathing remarks about MCD’s illegal licensing of non-conforming units), reported on November 2.

Those genuinely aggrieved by regularisation should know that since Plan violations infringe development rights safeguards against their regularisation are inbuilt in due process that requires Public Notice for Plan modification and that other forms of protest are weaker, besides undemocratic and tending to obfuscate law and atrophy statutory safeguards. Those genuinely caught in non-conforming situations should know that it is foolish to settle for promises short of rights, not least of all because these promises cannot – and are not even meant to – be kept. Both should know the rest is monkey-business, being helped along by their cat-brawls.

Regularisation of Plan implementation backlog and that of wilful projects in disregard of the Plan are inter-connected and equally devoid of basis in law or sense. The ludicrous idea that mere promise of former leaves the state free to abrogate planned development responsibility for pursuit of the latter is afloat only on hot-air of dubious anti-Plan discourse. This discourse has decided that by 2021 Delhi is to have 23 million people, which is twice what Delhi has land and water for. What is happening now is development for some new half (illegal schemes for NRIs, PIOs, MNCs, second-home buyers, etc, full range of illegal touristy projects, etc, illegal freehold conversion of public land, etc). For current populace this discourse fabricates, debates and celebrates only do-it-yourself governance options and mere promises of regularisation, while exploring and crafting all options for penalties to ensure certainty, when push comes to shove, of the boot.

Fighting about regularisation-promise lollipops dispensed in Regularisation Melas, fighting over toeholds in Great Terrain Robbery, fighting faceless enemies across blurred battle-lines, trapped in endless conflict in a divide-and-loot maze full of dead-ends. How came to be hither Delhi?

Gita Dewan Verma | Planner | 03.11.2004