February 24, 2006
Mahatma Gandhi once observed that “Politics bereft of principles are the death traps; they kill the soul of a nation”. How right he was. What we, of late, have been witnessing in Delhi is not only a spate of illegal constructions or their demolitions but also how widespread are the ‘death traps’ which our unprincipled politics has dug for the city and state.
The predatory forces that have been ravaging the capital derive their strength from the evils that have gone deep into the inner layers of society. The crisis is really one of character, conscience and commitment. Gandhiji wanted our municipal councillors “not to seek honours or indulge in mutually rivalries, but to have a real spirit of service and convert themselves into unpaid sweepers and road makers, and above all, take pride in doing so”. But our city fathers are doing exactly the opposite. They are competing with one another in wrongdoing and virtually converting our civic set-up into a happy hunting ground for the corrupt.
The land and building mafia, the landlord, the buyers or rentees, and the political elements who support or participate in illegal activity, all combine to create a self-serving net-work which also functions as a huge ‘vote bank’. This unsavory phenomenon penalises honest citizens and rewards lawless ones. For example, an honest commercial builder who respects zoning regulations cannot compete with dishonest builders who violate them and gets away through the direct or indirect backing of those who hold the levers of power. Such a builder would have to either go out of business or follow the line of dishonest builders. Likewise, a residential builder who puts up four or five stories, when only two are permissible, or converts his plot-housing into ‘group housing’, would secure huge pecuniary gains but that would be at the expense of his law-abiding neighbours.
What is, therefore, at stake with regard to the deluge of illegal constructions in Delhi is not demolition or no demolition, but whether we would have a just and honest society or an unjust and dishonest one. I was clear what was really at stake when I came to the scene as urban development minister at the end of 1999. I was determined to set things right. I took seven major decisions. One of the them was to take the entire issue of unauthorised colonies and constructions to the Union Cabinet which agreed that no colony that came after 1993 would be considered for regularisation and that strong and prompt action would be taken to end the menace of unauthorised constructions. On the basis of this decision, a letter was drafted by me. It was issued by my ministry on August 28, 2000. It required the government of Delhi and organisations like the Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi Development Authority to take firm and speedy action against illegal constructions.
This letter, a copy of which was put on the record of the Supreme Court, listed 10 specific measures. After I left the ministry, the court asked the authorities concerned to let it be known as to what precise action it had taken to implement these ten measures. It did not get a satisfactory response and expressed its concern, in its order of February 2, 2002: “It is quite evident that there is now no fear of the law catching up at least with those persons who do not believe in adhering to following the rules and regulations laid down with respect to construction of property…It is a dangerous trend if the people do not have either respect for or fear of law primarily due to non-enforcement of the law.”
What is important to note is that most of the 18,000 illegal constructions currently under threat of demolitions have come into existence after the aforesaid letter of August 28, 2000, was issued — that is, after the highest executive authority had taken the decision and the highest court of the land had asked for a report on the action taken on it. Such is the respect that the local organisations and builders have shown to these august bodies.
Those who advocate that the Master Plan should be amended also do not understand what is at stake. Nor do they know that the Plan cannot be amended to destroy Delhi’s very soul. Would it, moreover, be constitutionally permissible to have a law which creates two sets of by-laws, one for illegal builders and another for the honest ones?
The political party which holds the reigns of power at the local, state and central levels has something else at stake too. It is the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru whose feelings for Delhi were full of ‘passionate intensity’. He looked at the capital as a symbol of India. He wanted it to develop in accordance with a plan. He provided a strong central thrust to the formulation of the first Master Plan. Should not Sonia Gandhi, who is expected to protect the Nehruvian legacy, not assert her leadership and tell her partymen and women at all levels to ensure that Nehru’s wishes are not buried in the junkyards of unauthorised constructions?
The writer is a former J&K governor and former urban development minister
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