A Supreme Court order from 22 years ago on finding an alternate space for the city’s industries led to the creation of the Bawana Industrial Area — where 17 people were killed in a fire at an illegal firecracker unit last week.
The court order was triggered by a 1996 writ petition on the proliferation of illegal industries in residential areas, in violation of the Delhi Master Plan. The area was envisioned with the aim of “decongesting Delhi” by “relocating industries”, “reducing environmental pollution in residential areas” and providing a space for small-scale industries to thrive.
Mahabal Mishra, Congress leader and former west Delhi MP from 2003-2008, said, “In the late 90s, Delhi witnessed sealing of all unauthorised factories. This industrial area was carved out to give a separate space to people whose factories had been shut down.” As per records of the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC), the total area for the project was 1,865 acres in Bawana village. It was acquired for Rs 7.33 lakh per acre while Rs 10,000 per acre was paid as compensation for building of new structures. Land was acquired twice — in March 1998 and then in September 2000.
“With every industrial space, migrant workers end up coming. It is a simple question of demand and supply. If you look at Delhi, unauthorised colonies came up in the 80s and then boomed in the 90s. This coincided with demand for cheap labour in the capital. In Bawana, it was more pronounced — it was a rural, agrarian village where industries had been suddenly planted,” Mishra said.
As a result, Bawana’s population shot up. With the increase in migrant workers from UP and Bihar, the area’s political allegiance also shifted. The Jat-BJP hegemony was punctured and the Congress won the constituency in every poll until AAP in 2015. As per DSIIDC records, in the initial days, a total of 51,851 applications from industries operating in residential areas were received of which 51,214 were allotted industrial plots while 637 were allotted flats.
These industries were of different categories — 22 per cent dealt with automobile parts, 10 per cent with paper and printing and only 1 per cent with chemical products. But a former DSIIDC official said, “The problem with a space like the Bawana Industrial Area is that it is outside Delhi, making it harder to conduct routine checks and balances. As a result, a nexus grew in which hazardous industries — which would never get permission to operate in the capital — took buildings on rent illegally.” Mishra said, “For something like a firecracker factory, you will never get permission. In cases like this, both the Delhi government and the MCDs need to check.”