Industries in Delhi / And how many deaths will it take to be known...?

Gita Dewan Verma / Planner / 29.12.02

A morning blast in a glass factory in an unauthorised colony. 9 dead.
Including a 10 year old boy and a 50 year old woman, who just happened to
live next door and be home as usual. 13 injured, 8 of them seriously.
Including a 10 year old boy, who just happened to live next door and be
playing outside his house as usual. What am I writing? Obituary for those
no more? Prayer for those in hospital? ?Testimony by victims? ? by proxy,
for we have ensured victims can?t/won?t testify, become gatekeepers of
testimonies, embedding people?s poignant experiences in frameworks of our
choice to score points over one another? Docket this perturbed plannerly
prose where you will, but do be reminded justice demands the gaze be
shifted from victims to culprits.

At 5am over a dozen workers reported for morning shift at RK Plastics, a
3-storied glass manufacturing factory in an unauthorised colony on the
edge of village Samaipur Badli. At 8am a boiler burst with a loud
explosion, setting the factory ablaze. The roof and other portions caved
in, killing the foreman Prem Kumar (40) and an unidentified colleague.
Portions fell on the adjoining house, killing Anar Devi (50) and Brij
Kishore (10). Charred bodies of the four were recovered later. Area
residents saw some workers running out of the factory in flames and called
the Fire Service. Others were trapped inside. The impact shattered
windowpanes of several houses. Glass shards flying about injured many. And
Rahul (10), playing outside his house, suffered serious burns. 11 fire
tenders took two hours to douse the blaze and rescue those trapped inside.
CATS and PCR vans took the injured to hospitals. Mushtak Khan (20), Sunil
(30), Prem Chand (16), Vijay (18) and Dharmender (22) succumbed to their
burns. Five were discharged after being administered first aid. Eight,
including Rahul, are in hospital, four critical.

Industry Minister Deep Chand Bandhu and area councilor Devender Yadav
visited the spot, as did leader of the house in the Municipal Corporation
Ram Babu Sharma with MCD commissioner. Sharma ordered an inquiry into the
incident. The police said a case of causing death due to negligence has
been registered against the owner and efforts are on to trace him. Dinesh,
discharged after first aid, said, "A case of negligence against the owner
was registered last year also, when one labourer died in a boiler blast".
Bablu, in hospital, said, "For the past two days there was a leakage in
the furnace. Suspecting that something might go wrong, we informed the
factory supervisor, but he did not take any action''. An MCD spokesperson
said MCD had given the factory a license and that an Additional
Commissioner would be conducting the inquiry and submitting his report by
January 1. An official of MCD?s licensing department said there is a
blanket ban on licences for units undertaking hazardous activities, but
owners apply for adhoc licences on pretext of other activities. And, "How
can we keep a check over illegal units in unauthorised colonies when even
those running in regularised colonies are proving difficult to regulate."

Delhi Development Authority cleared the proposal for declaring 24
residential areas industrial to ?beat? the court deadline of 31 December
for shifting or shutting industries in places not meant for industries. In
six years since the Court first ordered this for about 100,000 such units,
the government has ?developed? in a faraway location 16,000 industrial
plots, on less than 50 of which construction has started, as
infrastructure is not in place. A ?consensus? has emerged across the
entire political spectrum as well as civil society that the only way to
solve the problem is to label it solution through regularisation. In
election year, this consensus has translated into executive decision, with
DDA clearing this proposal, implications of which have been tragically
demonstrated, rather reminded, already within a week, even as its
announcement would have made even those willing to relocate think second

The Supreme Court shot down DDA?s idea of May 2002 to allow commercial use
of industrial plots in Delhi. The problem of industries in places not
meant for them could have been solved better by shifting them to these
industrial plots instead of regularising them in residential space, which
is short at city level. But there was no political or civil society
opposition to, let alone consensus against, DDA?s ludicrous proposal of
converting scarce industrial space to up-market commercial space, of which
there is excess.

In November 2000 Delhi witnessed an unusual industrial unrest, against the
Master Plan. The entire political spectrum as well as civil society pulled
the industrious of Delhi, including perhaps those from Samaipur Badli, out
on to the streets to demand that the Plan be put aside to solve the
problem. This consensus (though it was not against the Plan this time),
triggered by a court deadline in 2000, resurfaced about the court deadline
of 2002.

1) Delhi?s Master Plan is NOT a plannerly artifact for all in any position
of power to try to ?better? in self-seeking indulgence of wannabe planner.
It is a carefully considered document of citizens? entitlements in
benefits of planned sustainable development on public land vested in
government under a policy specifically focussed on equity and interests of
the poor. It may be changed only after careful consideration by due
process of law, requiring public scrutiny ? not through exclusionary
devices like gatekeeper seminars, but through democratic mechanisms that
allow all people to object and suggest.

2) The Master Plan has adequate provisions for industries. These are by
way of mandatory land allocations for industrial estates and flatted
factories and provisions for planned integration of a range of industries
in commercial and residential areas. Industrial space is envisaged in
various places in various forms to take care of productivity and
environment as well as preferences of location, affordability, etc. There
are also provisions to ensure that necessary shifting is not unduly
disruptive. The estimated number of industries is not in excess of Plan
estimates. What we have on hand is NOT a planning failure but an
implementation failure. What this logically calls for is supporting
implementation, not positing patchy original alternatives that offer
people far less than what they are entitled to, sparing their entitlements
in city space for unintended, unnecessary and unsustainable up-market

3) Relocation of units in large peripheral estates, such as the one
continuing to be desperately developed to meet extending court deadlines,
is illegal under the Plan, violative of its provisions for locations, plot
size ranges, etc. Not only is this tantamount to short-changing industries
on their Plan entitlements, such large concentration of industries is
unlikely to work. There is likelihood of infrastructure capacity
constraints and certainty of slum formation on account of no provision for
workers? housing. It is pertinent that it was in a PIL filed by a Factory
Owners? Association that Delhi High Court lately struck down Delhi?s slum
policy and allowed clearance without benefit of resettlement, an order
against which, too, a complete consensus has quickly emerged across the
political spectrum and civil society.

4) Sweeping regularisation of unplanned development is illegal as it
amounts to denying benefits / abdicating responsibility of planned
development and, thereby, abandonment of the purpose for which powers and
land were vested in DDA/government. Regularisation of industrial use in
residential areas is illegal as the Plan expressly prohibits mixing of
residential and industrial uses precisely on account of risk of what
happened yesterday. The Plan does allow flexibility to take care of
situations like unintended concentration of industries, but not through
simplistic ?label-changing? regularisation. In 1990 three areas were named
in the Plan for industrial area redevelopment schemes requiring
comprehensive surveys, improvement and licensing of units on basis of
individual merit. That Samaipur Badli was one of these three areas, and
glass factories were listed in F-category requiring relocation to
extensive industrial areas, speaks volumes for what merely regularisation
will do, rather not do, to solve any problem in real terms. If residential
areas are declared industrial, under the Plan, for good reasons of safety
and more, residences in them will become non-conforming and require
relocation. Changing landuse of 24 residential areas to industrial will
transfer a lot of residential land allocation to industrial. Unless
compensatory landuse change is made, there will be further shortfall of
already short residential space at city level. It is ludicrous that all
the consensus-walas should be simultaneously demanding regularisation of
industries in residential space and residential land for slums without
raising pen or voice against, if not aggressively pushing for,
commercialisation and commodification of both, going on concurrently!

If sensible planning had been allowed to prevail:

Anar Devi and Brij kishore would not have died like this, nor Rahul would
not have been in hospital, as there would have been no factory next to
their homes. The workers, too, may have been alive and safe if the factory
had been where more space, security and productivity might have encouraged
the owner to invest in safety measures and regulatory mechanisms might
have been more effective. Over one lakh units and several times as many
workers and entrepreneurs, besides the city?s economy and environment,
would have been better off. Of course, our handful of politicians and NGOs
would have had one less problem to squabble over by consensus and a
handful of poor little rich guys would have had to forego some of their
real estate gains on public land. But it is these handful of ?big guys?
who are in charge and in their charge sense and sensibility don?t seem to
stand a chance.

What ?testimonies by victims? should but won?t/can?t ask the ?big guys?:

Why should charges of causing death by negligence be restricted to the
owner and inquiry limited to scapegoats in MCD? Why should they not extend
to all clamouring for regularisation of industries in residences where
they can?t be monitored and will be risky? Why should they not extend to
all who have become party to Plan entitlements of industries being denied
or lost/transferred to vested interests?

What I want to ask the ?big guys?, for I, too, am victim:
Why don?t you all get off my turf and clear up the mess you all have made
on it before you all go so I can try and do what I was trained at
taxpayers? cost to do as a planner? Why don?t you all feel more guilty
than I do for yesterday for yours are errors of commission and mine only
of omission and not for want of trying but because you all have left me no
room? And? how many deaths will it take?


Events of 2000 in the matter of industries in Delhi are chronicled in my
book Slumming India.

Events of May-September 2002 are loosely chronicled at


On 31.10.02 DDA told the Supreme Court it would withdraw its ?scheme? to
permit commercial use of industrial plots. The Court asked for details of
action proposed against misuse.

01.11.02: Express Newsline: DDA to withdraw scheme allowing change in land

This was perhaps the first time in the protracted case that ?misuse? came
up. On 01.11.02 I wrote to DDA and MoUD to ask that they tell the court
about all misuse, including non-development, of industrial space.

[piece of plannerly prose put out on 01.11.02? first after this summary].


Then Delhi BJP President, who?d already promised commercial use, etc, went
into a sulk

And I worried this might blow into a plan-bashing tantrum

[somewhat intemperate diary piece of 15.11.02? second after this summary]


On 04.12.02 there was a front-page news-report about the court deadline of
31 December, predicting a replay of November 2000.

There had already been several reports about relocation at Bawana not
quite working and a November 2000 replay seemed plausible. I wrote to
MoUD/DDA to beg in continuation of my letter of 01.11.02

[panicky piece put out on 05.12.02? third after this summary]

For nearly a fortnight news reports pointed to mayhem around the court
deadline. Bawana did not look like it would happen and in any case it was
way short of what was needed. While the government was speaking of seeking
an extension, it had not approached the court. It was beginning to say all
was now up to the industries. The opposition was gleefully threatening

09.12.02: ENL: Industrialists told, by the book at Bawana

12.12.02: ENL: No power to industries after Dec 31, say firms [[I did ask
how come they decide]]

12.12.02: ENL: Govt okays loan for 1,600 industrialists to take plots

12.12.02: ToI: Sops for shifting factory owners

12.12.02: HT: It?s up to industries now, Govt to tell SC

14.12.02: HT: No clear picture on industries? relocation

15.12.02: HT: ?Industry relocation will take six months?

17.12.02: ENL: Shifting units: Govt not to plead for more time

17.12.02: ENL: BJP talks of stir over relocation


Then, a day before the court closed for vacation, the government started
talking of regularisation even though it could no longer legally beat the
court deadline and had not asked for an extension.

19.12.02: ENL: Govt looks to Centre over industries

19.12.02: HT: Front: DDA move to avoid relocating industries

The outcome of the meeting of 20.12.02 was a foregone conclusion.
Regularisation was approved.

21.12.02: Hindu: Proposal on industrial units gets DDA's nod

21.12.02: HT: DDA decides not to close industries

21.12.02: ENL: Turn 24 residential areas into industry zones, says DDA

I wrote on 21.12.02 to MoUD and DDA to protest the misleading, illegal
move and reiterate requests.

[?rejoinder? to Business standard syndicated column in Statesman of
27.12.02? at end]


And now, Samaipur Badli.

29.12.02: Hindu: 9 killed, 13 injured in glass factory blast

29.12.02: Hindu: Probe into blast ordered

29.12.02: HT: Nine dead in Samaipur Badli blast

29.12.02: ToI: Illegal units thrive in unauthorised colonies

And there?s a consensus running across the political spectrum and beyond
it to civil society on just this! And no one seems to be making the
connection between what happened yesterday and what all have got together
to promise the city.