The Bawana and Mumbai fire tragedies found an echo in the Supreme Court on Monday, with a two-judge bench slamming civic authorities and stating that “human life does not seem to have great value”. “There are people in Delhi who are violating laws with impunity. Look at Bawana… So human life does not seem to have great value… And Mumbai also…”, a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta said. The court was hearing a plea on sealing of commercial premises on the orders of the Monitoring Committee appointed by it. The committee has been at the forefront of the recent sealing drives in south Delhi.
Seventeen people had died in a fire on Saturday, which broke out at an illegal firecracker packaging unit in Bawana. On December 28, a blaze at a rooftop pub in Mumbai had claimed 14 lives. The bench also pulled up the civic bodies in the capital, and asked the counsel: “Laws are being violated in South Delhi. What are you doing?” The counsel replied that “there is nothing illegal”.
This prompted the bench to ask: “So you mean all is legal?” The counsel replied: “We are taking action.” But the court continued to quiz him: “What action are you taking against hotels and motels on MG road?” The counsel replied that he will file an affidavit in this regard.
The court also referred to some pubs in Rajouri Garden area, saying that “they are so dangerous”. Meanwhile, appearing for some marble godowns in Chattarpur, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said the procedure followed for sealing was “unfair” and that no notices were given before civic authorities before the crackdown.
The counsel pointed out that the land in question was next to the National Highway and used to be agricultural land, which had been converted into a commercial stretch, as per the Delhi Masterplan of 2021. “It is a commercial stretch which was agricultural land before,” he submitted. Agricultural land is not residential, he said, pointing out that the court’s order was to check commercial misuse of residential properties.
He added that there were about 5,000 people employed in 50-odd godowns, who have not been able to run their business for the last two weeks as a result of the sealing.
The court then asked him whether these units were following all labour laws. “There are certain labour laws that are to be complied with… We don’t know if you are complying with this… We will examine it,” the court said. Rohatgi said that was no ground for sealing, but the court countered: “Why not?” The court asked the Monitoring Committee to file a report on the matter by January 30.