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Sealing on, govt in a bind
*Traders call for bandh * Schools closed for two days
S.S. Negi & S. Satyanarayan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 6
The Centre today expressed helplessness in providing relief from sealing to traders in the National Capital in the wake of the Supreme Court’s verdict, even as the Group of Ministers (GoM) pondered over the possible legislative options available to salvage the situation.

Asserting that it had no option but to implement the order on carrying out the drive against unauthorised establishments in residential areas, the government said the decision on when and how the sealing resumes would be taken by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in consultation with the Supreme Court appointed Monitoring Committee.

Hours after the court order, a Group of Ministers (GoM) met to deliberate on the issue, following which Union Urban Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy said: "The Supreme Court order is paramount and binding... We don't have an option but to implement it."

Regretting that the government, which approached the court more than once to apprise it of the "difficulties" on the ground, failed to get any relief for the traders, he said the matter would be taken up by the Cabinet.

To a specific question on when sealing would be resumed, Mr Reddy said the timing would be decided by the MCD in consultation with the court-appointed monitoring committee.

He also declined to comment whether the government would come out with an ordinance on the matter and said the Centre was yet to receive a copy of the apex court order.

Meanwhile, sources said in the wake of the strong Supreme Court judgement, any legislative measure to tackle the situation would be taken by the Congress-led government only after a consultation with all political parties. This, they said, would help the Congress to shift onus to other political parties too.

The GoM meeting, chaired by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, was attended by Union Ministers H R Bhardwaj, Kapil Sibal, Ajay Maken, Delhi Lt Governor B L Joshi, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, MCD Commissioner A K Nigam and Police Commissioner K K Paul.

The BJP squarely blamed the UPA Government at the Centre and the Delhi Government for creating an explosive situation in the Capital by not addressing the traders’ issue properly and demanded an ordinance to provide amnesty to save the traders from sealing.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, in a separate meeting with the Delhi Police Commission, reviewed the arrangements put in place to check any possible law and order situation in the capital tomorrow in the wake of the bandh called by traders.

All schools in the Capital will remain closed for two days from tomorrow in view of the sealing issue.

In a resounding no for changing its order on sealing of illegal shops in Capital’s residential areas, the Supreme Court blasted the Centre, Delhi Government and MCD for taking shelter under the law and order situation. The court said it was nothing but succumbing to the pressure from a few thousand law breakers, who have been taking the city to ransom by putting “daggers” on the throat of the government.

“I think they (government) should be told that they know that there is a Constitution in the country which lays down for maintenance of the rule of law, if there is no rule of law then there will be no democracy”, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Y.K. Sabharwal, sitting with Mr Justice C.K. Thakker in a division Bench, told Solicitor-General G.E. Vahanvati and the counsel for the Delhi Government and MCD in uncertain terms.

“I am upset with such a stand being taken by the authorities who are supposed to enforce the rule of law. My worry is if it can be the stand of any one in the Supreme Court, the highest institution of judiciary, what will be the position in the High Courts and other courts which give injunctions (to implementation their orders). Will the matters be decided in the streets,” an exasperated CJI asked the government counsel.

The sealing drive was to be resumed from November 1 after the court, in its September 29 order, had given relief to thousands of small traders. But, it could not be done due to a three-day traders’ bandh, which had tuned violent at several places, resulting in damage to private and public property and burning of at least 24 buses.

The strongest ever observations so far on the sealing issue came from the court when Mr Vahanvati, Delhi Government counsel V.P. Singh and MCD lawyer A.M. Singhvi said in the wake of law and order problem arising out of traders’ protest, the sealing drive could not be continued and be deferred.

As the Solicitor-General said the government was ready to go ahead with the sealing of nearly 5,000 shops not covered by September 7 and 15 notifications brining 2,183 roads and streets under the mixed land use plan but the time be extended for other 25,000 traders, mostly the owners of big shops, out of the 41,000 who had filed affidavits for shifting away, the court said “there is no question of modifying the order… That chapter is closed.”

The court took the government to the memory lane for taking similar stands in the wake of anti-Sikh riots in 1984 in Delhi, Mumbai riots (1993) and Gujarat riots (2002) that those incidents were public reactions and asked should such a stand be accepted from the authorities when they knew there is provisions of Article 141 and 144 in the Constitution that bind them to enforce the rule of law.

“Do you think 25,000 people (traders) by putting the daggers on the throat of the government would hold the liberty and rights of lakhs of other people (residents) to ransom…Luckily the government is not asking for repeal of the Article 144,” the court sarcastically observed.

The CJI also chided the Delhi Government for coming to the court at this juncture to take the plea of law and order while it had chosen to remain aloof earlier, telling its counsel that it had woken only when its opponents were making a noise on the issue. The court made it clear that it would not allow its forum to be used for political purposes as the entire issue was linked only maintaining the rule of law.

When Mr Vahanvati tried to placate the court by saying that the government was conscious of its duty to enforce the law, the unrelenting Bench said “consciousness is only meaningful if it is translated into action”.

It also cautioned the government agencies and the MCD for trying to “shoot from the shoulders” of its employees when its counsel said the corporation’s officials would find it difficult to carry out the sealing drive in the face of traders’ protest.

“The public institutions are not charity for employees and money-making bodies for them and let the people to hold the entire city to ransom,” the court said.

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