The Parliament last week cleared the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Act, 2017, saving unauthorised development from punitive action till December 31, 2020. This may not be the last word on the subject, though, with the Supreme Court set to hear writ petitions challenging the Act’s predecessor — The Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 — on January 12.
In April 2013, the apex court had transferred these writ petitions to the Delhi High Court for expeditious hearing. But on December 15, 2017, a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta withdrew the petitions to itself, noting that nothing had happened in the HC since then.
“With regard to the writ petitions that have been transferred to the HC, which challenge the Act and subsequent legislations, we find from the perusal of the website of the HC that these petitions have not been heard, for one reason or another. We do not find any fault with the HC. The intention of this court in transferring the writ petitions to the HC was for expeditious disposal, preferably within one year… Therefore, given the gravity of the situation… we think it appropriate that this court ought to hear the writ petitions on an expeditious basis… The Registry will place these writ petitions on receipt from the HC for directions on January 12, 2018,” the SC bench said.
The judgement came on applications, seeking relief, by some property owners, whose premises had been sealed following the directions of the SC-appointed Monitoring Committee, empowered to check unauthorised industrial activity and commercial misuse of residential premises in the capital. Those who have challenged the 2006 Act and subsequent notifications issued under it include former Delhi Lt Governor P K Dave and former Delhi Chief Secretary Omesh Saigal.
The 2006 legislation came in the wake of the SC clampdown on unauthorised development in the capital, and the setting up of the Monitoring Committee to carry out directions in this regard. The Committee was given shape on March 24, 2006, and sealed hundreds of premises, till the court suspended the sealing operations on January 3, 2012.
But in another order, also on December 15 last year, the apex court recalled the January 3, 2012 order, finding that the suspension had not had the desired effect of checking unauthorised development. The court referred to an unauthorised colony, which had come up in Mehrauli under the jurisdiction of the SDMC. In the judgement withdrawing the writ petitions to itself, the bench retraced the history of how it had dealt with the question of unauthorised development in the capital.
The bench noted that when the court was seized of the matter in 2004, the government of India, the government of Delhi and other statutory authorities had only tried to shift blame on each other. “Tragically the situation continues even today and those who are suffering are the citizens of Delhi, the sufferance being not only confined to breathing hazardous and noxious air, but also the health of thousands of people… residing in Delhi. In other words, the consequences of the failure to implement the rule of law in Delhi were having a generational impact, which cannot be anything but disastrous”, the court stated.