I live opposite a house that functions as a warehouse. All night, trucks and heavy vehicles rumble past, cartons and boxes are thrown into them with nary a thought to the neighbours who lie awake at night thanks to the racket. So you could say that I’m not really against urban sealing. There is no way that certain commercial establishments can coexist quietly and peacefully with residential ones. But this requires good urban planning to start with, where rules of land-use are implemented at the outset. We all know that this didn’t happen in Delhi. The other day, I got thinking about all those people whose premises were sealed or who escaped sealing by the skin of their teeth. Where did they all go?
“Most of us tried to find offices in Okhla,” said a small-scale handicraft exporter I recently met. “It was a terrible time…property prices there went through the roof, and for about double the rent that we were paying for a reasonably nice office in Greater Kailash II, we had to move to a stinky hole in Okhla Phase II!” said he.
Their new neighbourhood, he said, was a nightmare: “The roads were non-existent, electric supply erratic, the drains clogged, the taps dry…the place had virtually no amenities to speak of,” said he. When he moved to Okhla, he ended up paying between Rs 500-800 a month for water alone! In Okhla too, each phase is supposed to have an effluent treatment plant for the hazardous waste emanating from industrial units. But in reality, as the drains don’t work, effluents just spill on to the roadside and fester.
The story gets worse. In parts of Okhla, building-owners have realised that they’ll find takers for their buildings even if they don’t maintain them. One of his friends was shown office space where there was no electric wiring. “He was told that he could install his own, and rip it off when his lease ended!” he added.
Other places he’s seen, he said, lack amenities that many would consider basic: Roofs (tenants are required to install their own false ceilings), doors and floors (what you get is a cemented floor with bumps and grooves). This meant every time the lease expired, people like him had to spend anywhere between Rs 25,000 to 60,000 just to make the place habitable! He added, “Sadly, tenants also ensure they undo any work they had done to the building when they vacate. If the landlord maintained his building, so much money won’t be spent by each tenant…” He’s actually contemplating sticking tiles on slabs of plywood and creating a portable tiled floor to lug from one rented office to another rented office!
The latest office he has rented has another unusual problem: The landlord refused to let him install a doorbell! When he dug further, it turned out that by law, a building there must be engaged in a single activity. But walk into any building, and you’ll see that different commercial units operate on each floor. Different doorbells at the entrance would be a dead giveaway, which is perhaps why the landlord refused to let them install their own. But this also meant that if the MCD decided to crack down on Okhla, these floors could be sealed as well.
“Is this how the government expects us to earn foreign exchange for the country?” asked the exporter bitterly. He wasn’t really expecting any answers. Instead, he just shrugged: “The average person doesn’t realise that the MCD sealed much more than our offices, it sealed our fates too…”