The basement and first floors of 135 shops, including designer clothing and mobile stores, were sealed in the seven-decade-old Mehar Chand Market, home to 153 shops, on Wednesday. A senior official of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), which conducted the drive, said action was taken as only the ground floor is permitted in the market, but shopkeepers illegally built basement and first floor over time.
Two banks on the premises — State Bank of India and Dena Bank — have been given a week to close their operations, failing which these too will be sealed, he said.
The action was taken on the directions of the members of the Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee, which include former Election Commission advisor K J Rao, Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority chairman Bhure Lal and Major General Som Jhingan. The drive started around noon and went on till sunset.
Six-seven members of the civic body, along with police personnel, were present at the site to carry out sealing operations. They inspected the shops and asked the officers of the building department of SDMC’s Central Zone to initiate sealing action wherever unauthorised construction was seen.
“The unauthorised constructions at basement and upper floors in 135 shops were sealed, but the ground floor was spared,” an official said. The market dates back to 1948, when refugees from Pakistan were allotted khokhas for Rs 18 per month so they could earn a livelihood.
“There was problem of water seeping into these khokhas, so traders demanded a cemented structure. In 1964, these khokhas were demolished and cemented shops on the ground floor were given to traders. Rent for these was Rs 43 per month,” said Ashok Sakhuja, president of the market association.
In 1989, amid constant demand, the government agreed to give ownership of the land to the traders. “In 1995, we got ownership, for which we paid Rs 4.5 lakh. In 2005, we demanded that we should be allowed to build additional floors,” he said.
“The Land and Development department prepared a plan along with other civic agencies. A map was finalised in 2008 and sent to the MCD for approval, but the corporation did not approve it. They sat on it for 10 years,” he alleged. “We wrote so many letters… Yes, we made a mistake by constructing more floors, but this would not have happened if they had not sat on the proposal for 10 years.”
South Delhi Mayor Kamaljeet Sehrawat said, “They knew they were violating rules by constructing additional floors. We will try to find a solution. We will also look into legalities of the case and find out why the proposal has been pending.”