Delhi

A year on, Delhi traders face sealing brunt as several petitions fall on deaf ears

No other choice:  A shopkeeper sells clothes on a car outside his sealed shop in Amar Colony. Nearly 6,000 properties have been sealed over land-use violations since the drive started in the city in December 2017.

No other choice: A shopkeeper sells clothes on a car outside his sealed shop in Amar Colony. Nearly 6,000 properties have been sealed over land-use violations since the drive started in the city in December 2017.

Footfall and business have taken a steep dive in the once bustling Defence Colony market, a year since nearly 50 properties there were sealed upon orders of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee.

These are among nearly 6,000 properties that have been similarly sealed over land-use violations since the drive started in the city in December 2017, according to data from municipal corporations. The situation brought traders up in arms, petitioning officials and staging protests throughout 2018, without an end in sight.

At Sagar Ratna restaurant in Defence Colony, once a popular haunt, the sealing of two floors meant that the seating capacity dropped from 180 to only about 25, a source close to the management said. With so few seats, fewer people have been coming to the restaurant because they do not even expect to find seating. This means even the seats left are not getting filled the source explained. “Running a restaurant is expensive, you need to pay for up to 17 licences. If it goes on like this, we might have to shut the shop soon,” the source added.

Harsh Bansal, who runs a stationery store in the area, lists a string of restaurants that were shut down due to the drive — Desi Vies, Juggad, Mossaic, Social.

“What’s funny is for those restaurants that remain, there are no toilets, because most owners constructed their toilets on the first floor, which were all sealed, leaving the ground floor for the kitchens. Now if customer asks, they are sent to the public toilet down the road,” he said.

In his own store, the sealing drive meant that he had to cut down his inventory from over 9,600 types of products to only about 100. “This market was known for its variety and availability of high-end goods. Even if people came only to window shop they would often buy something and leave. Now, I have so many old customers who tell me how upset they are for not finding the same goods at the store,” he said.

“Some basic principles of natural justice should have been followed. We were not given any notice, or opportunity to put forward our case, this whole exercise has simply been harassment” he added.

Sales suffer

Rahul Malik, who runs a grocery store estimated that sales were only about 20% of what the store would make earlier.

“We ran an organic store from the basement. But that operation had to be stopped and staff had to be laid off once it was sealed. Even if we get desealed now, it would take a long time to pull customers back. This whole thing has set us back by 10 years at least,” he lamented.

Jagdish Gupta, owner of a sports utility franchise in the area, pointed out that rent from the buildings was an important source of income, given that retail trade had slowed down because of e-commerce players. “Now we don’t even have that.”

The traders have made several petitions to members of the monitoring committee and to municipal corporation officials, but to no avail.

“We have all the documents. We have paid regularisation fees back in 2000. We have the lease deeds and zonal maps clearly establishing the area as commercial property. The problem is none of the officials have any clear information, and they chase us away when we approach them,” said Mr. Gupta.

A ray of hope

As a ray of hope, in February, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) approved amendments to the Master Plan Delhi-2021, which would allow local shopping complexes such as those at the Defence Colony market to be regularised and thus, desealed.

However, the monitoring committee rejected applications for desealing based on the amendment, citing that the case was sub judice.

Meanwhile, political parties across the spectrum have also been opposing the sealing drive, including councillors of the three BJP-led municipal corporations which have been tasked with carrying it out.

Traders’ body demand

Presently, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) which represents up to seven crore small traders in the country, has been demanding that the Central government come out with a Bill or an ordinance, similar to what the UPA government did back in 2006 to put a stop to the sealing drive and deseal properties in the city. The union plans to hold a massive demonstration on January 3 to commence a “result-oriented” strategy to push for desealing.

“The present government came to power on the back of the trading community with slogans like “Make in India”. The sealing issue has been a blow to this, and the party in power will face the consequences,” said Mr. Gupta.


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Printable version | Aug 19, 2022 12:37:24 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/a-year-on-city-traders-face-sealing-brunt-as-several-petitions-fall-on-deaf-ears/article25861676.ece