Apex court will not stay sealing

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AFTER THE VERDICT: Delhi traders shout slogans before the Supreme Court on Monday after it asked the authorities to resume the sealing drive against them. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
AFTER THE VERDICT: Delhi traders shout slogans before the Supreme Court on Monday after it asked the authorities to resume the sealing drive against them. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

J. Venkatesan

None can be permitted to place a dagger on the neck and seek relief: judges

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain applications filed by the Centre, the Delhi Government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi seeking permission to stop sealing operations and allow over 30,000 traders, who had given affidavits, to continue their commercial activities in residential areas in the capital.

The governments' plea that the sealing should stop in view of last week's trade bandh and the consequent law and order situation cut no ice with a Bench comprising Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice C.K. Thakker.

Dismissing the applications, it said, "Having heard Solicitor-General G.E. Vahanvati and counsel for the parties, we find no ground whatsoever to modify the order dated September 29 in regard to those who gave undertakings [to stop misuse of their residential premises]"

The Bench said: "We have no doubt that the Governments are not powerless to control the situation. None can be permitted to place a dagger on the neck of the person and seek relief. None can be permitted to hold the city, law and order and the law-abiding citizens to ransom and then ask for relief."

Shock and concern

Expressing shock and concern at the stand taken by the authorities for not complying with the court's directions, the Bench said traders could not take the law into their own hands and this could not be cited as a reason for non-compliance with the order. The confidence the Constitution makers had put in the judicial system, headed by the Supreme Court, was in jeopardy.

"Our worry is if this is the position on the orders passed by this court, what will be the position of our High Courts and what would happen to the people. It will be the end of the rule of law and breakdown of democracy in our country."

The Bench recalled similar instances in which the government expressed helplessness on the ground of public reaction. "Whether it is the Sikh riots of 1984 or the Mumbai and Gujarat riots, the position is the same. Would the government say that because of public reaction we are unable to implement the order? While implementing court directions such things are bound to happen and you cannot say the government will not implement the Supreme Court orders."

The judges said: "The authorities concerned are to be reminded of the constitutional obligations under Articles 141 [law declared by the Supreme Court to be binding on all courts] and 144 [civil and judicial authorities to act in aid of the Supreme Court] that they have to comply with our order."

Law and order a pretext

It was their duty and obligation to ensure that there was no breach of law and order. A person could not take shelter under the pretext of law and order and continue to breach the orders and directions given by this court, the Bench said.

Mr. Vahanvati said the government was aware of its constitutional obligations and was not shirking its responsibility to comply with the order. The Bench told him, "let us hope that it is translated into action." It was only because of the false hope and promise given by the authorities that traders were emboldened to take the law into their own hands and hold the city to ransom.

The Bench told Mr. Vahanvati: "We did a mistake in our earlier orders by granting relief to those traders who were covered by the two [government] notifications allowing commercial activity in residential areas." The sealing was resorted to because the traders who had given undertakings did not down the shutters. "It is not demolition. You [those who gave undertaking] have to stop till you get some relief under the law in future."

Compliance first

The court faulted the Centre and the Delhi Government for filing the applications seeking relief for the traders. "The authorities should have asked the traders concerned to first comply with the undertakings and then come for any assistance."

When counsel for the Delhi Government V.P. Singh pleaded for some relief, the Bench said: "You [Government] were not before us earlier. You are here to answer your political opponents who are asking what you have done for the traders."

While making it clear that the sealing should resume if traders did not voluntarily down the shutters, the Bench said the manner and timing of the exercise would be decided by the court-appointed Monitoring Committee in consultation with MCD officials.

The Bench asked the committee to submit weekly reports on the progress of the sealing operations.

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