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South Delhi’s Amar Colony market has 700-plus stores, of which 400 were sealed by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) on March 8. The market, famous for its wholesale and retail range of women’s wear, was one of the casualties of a sealing drive undertaken by municipal corporations across the national capital on the directions of a Supreme Court-appointed committee.
Amid the chaos and violence that flared up, there were reports of police manhandling. Some shopkeepers even alleged that women were beaten up in the process. A photojournalist with a Hindi daily accused the Delhi Police of roughing him up while he was covering the sealing drive in South East Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, PTI reported. Commenting on the overall issue, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari condemned the behaviour of the police and said, "It is a grave humanitarian issue involving hundreds of thousands of families, and police should abstain from using force on traders.”
Day 2: The second day was marked by protests in Amar Colony's central area, with the market association raising slogans such as, "We will go on hunger strike and are ready to die", and using loudspeakers to air their discontent.
Distressed workers at many shops were vocal about the events. Speaking to Business Standard, one of them said, "We are tensed, all are shops are closed. What shall we do now? Resort to looting?" On the question of compensation, his response was: "How will I get compensation or a guarantee, when my owner's shop itself is sealed? First note ban, then GST and now this...We have also paid our taxes".
Empty steel bowls and pamphlets were distributed among the protesting crowd in order to make the agitation more symbolic. One protester wasn't apparently pleased. "Why steel bowls? We are not begging," he asked, as the media and security personnel started flocking the area.
Several local businessmen led by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) have also been protesting against the drive, saying it was "unfair" to them.
CAIT has been alleging that the municipal corporations are sealing properties in "utter violation" of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, which was passed by Parliament as a statutory law. The Confederation called for a one-day 'bandh' on March 13 against the drive in the national capital. According to CAIT's statement, traders are demanding that the Union Government bring a bill in the current session of the Parliament to put a moratorium on the sealing.
The politics of things: As demonstrations reached full swing by the afternoon, there was renewed zeal among the crowd, with news that Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who was to address the protesters, had started preparing for his visit.
Just after Kejriwal entered the podium, protest and cries erupted by a section of the crowd led by local Municipal Counsellor Avhishek Dutt. The Congress counsellor shouted, “I have been with the traders for the last three days, where were you guys? I don’t want to do politics but I need answers to my questions". The market parishad had to request Abhishek to remain calm.
Meanwhile, Sanjay Singh of AAP intervened and said, "At least listen to us and your CM, we are fighting on your behalf. Please don’t get taken in by politics here". He then resorted to political rhetoric himself and said, "If Jalikattu can be halted by an ordinance, why not (the sealing drive) for Delhi traders?"
Kejriwal took over from Singh, saying, "All are stuck in the sealing in Delhi. This isn't a single party matter and is not about me. If all the MLAs get together and we close the sansad for 2 days, this matter can be solved. If there is no solution to the sealing drive by March 31, I will go on hunger strike. We will put pressure on the Centre together," the chief minister told the traders.
The Master Plan: Under the sealing drive, hundreds of commercial establishments have been sealed so far due to non-payment of conversion charges and violations of Delhi Master Plan.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which comes under the union government, describes the Master Plan as a document that lays down the planning guidelines, policies, development code and space requirements for various socio-economic activities supporting the city’s population during the plan period. The Master Plan, which is also the basis for all infrastructure requirements, called for large-scale sealing in the capital, to shut down establishments across popular markets such as Karol Bagh, Model Town, and Defence Colony. Under this drive, almost around 400 were sealed in Amar Colony market area on March 8.
Kejriwal said, "We need to change the master plan, DDA changes were put before the SC and those were scrapped".
In order to manage the impending crisis, the DDA had later come with a set of amendments that allow for a mixed land-use policy, under which commercial and residential establishments can function in a simultaneous but restricted manner. However, the Supreme Court on March 6, stayed the notification on the proposed amendments to the Delhi Master Plan 2021.
The passing of these amendments would have significantly helped protect traders in the national capital from the sealing drive by a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee. As reported in The Hindustan Times, the apex court was upset as the DDA had failed to respond to its query on whether it had undertaken a study to assess the environmental impact of the changes in the plan. “This dadagiri has to stop. You can’t tell this court 'you keep passing orders but we will do what we want to'. Is this rule of law?” the court had said.
The uncertainity: Traders have started packing up their goods. Mini trucks for loading merchandise were seen most of the blocks. The majority of shops in Amar Colony have started constructing walls and have removed shutters to make it appear as though the premises is available on rent. Within hours, new walls were constructed and painted. "Ghar banega toh sealing se bach jayega (If we construct a house, we will be spared the sealing)", said an un-named owner.
Some even dirtied the walls and broke the plaster to make it seem more authentic. Tea stalls were out of milk as the retail space which caters to milk supply was affected. The streets were mostly deserted and the hullabaloo of the market had disappeared.
"Sunsaan lag raha hain (everything looks deserted)", says an old lady who also has a mini retail shop.
Even after constructing new walls and removing the sign boards, people were worried as they believed that they could be tracked by the authorities since they were originally using commercial electricity metres to run their shops. Some retail shops are planning to start home deliveries.
"Kya karenge aab toh, aapke paas hamara number hain toh? Home delivery main saman bhej dunga main (What can we do now? You have our number, don't you? We do home deliveries)", says the owner of Maharani retail shop.