When Yamuna Pushta - one of the largest and oldest slum in East Delhi - was demolished a couple of years back, and made way for an eight-lane highway, the Supreme Court ruled:
- "Poverty could not be an excuse for living in slums."
The court was unimpressed that many of those evicted had been living on this "encroached" land for more than a generation, that they possessed ration cards issued on their addresses, and that they were paying a license fee of Rs. 7000/-p.a. to MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) for possession of their 12.5 sq.m. plot. The court went on to elaborate:
- "Desperation does not mean they will do something illegal by encroaching public land... In India, we have three weather conditions — heat, rain and winter. If we accept your argument, there will never be an appropriate time to demolish illegal structures standing on public land... Nobody forced you to come to Delhi. Is there a right to live in Delhi only? Stay where you can. If encroachments on public land are to be allowed, there will be anarchy."
Last year,a similar story got repeated. The only difference this time was that the land was for the "International Hotel Complex" project in South Delhi, whose project cost ran into hundreds of crore of rupee, and would host 5-star hotels, shopping malls, recreational facilties, residential and institutional area, etc... and this time the "defaulters" to this 92 hectare ‘constraint area’ (nice term!!) included Maruti Udyog Limited, Ambience Developers Private Limited, Regency Park Management Services Private Limited, Beverly Park Maintenance Services Private Limited and Jasmine Project Private Limited.
While the court acknowledged that:
- "DDA's advertisement (Hindu Dec 12, 2003 ) states: "purchaser would be required to obtain necessary clearance for the project from the EPCA and/or DPCC before submitting the plans for sanction to the Building Dept of DDA". There is no confirmation that this requirement was fulfilled by the allottees."
...it went on to conclude that:
- "...Had such parties inkling of an idea that such clearances were not obtained by DDA, they would not have invested such huge sums of money. The stand that wherever constructions have been made unauthorisedly demolition is the only option cannot apply to the present cases, more particularly, when they unlike, where some private individuals or private limited companies or firms being allotted to have made contraventions, are corporate bodies and institutions and the question of their having indulged in any malpractices in getting the approval or sanction does not arise..."
In case, one missed the last line in the quote: when they... are corporate bodies and institutions and the question of their having indulged in any malpractices in getting the approval or sanction does not arise!!!
Just to complete the story, the SC did ask the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to take remedial measures and penalise the violators.... And the Environment Ministry subsequently cleared the projects by imposing a penalty of Rs. 1 lakh to each of the developer!!!
Some months back, I was bemused - and depressed - looking at this sign board outside a property of a known-to-be benign corporate house:
I guess, it says all about the "aam aadmi" (the common man)... our version of The Unauthorized Person!!!