New Delhi: Thousands of commercial establishments across 10 prominent marketplaces in Delhi downed their shutters on Friday and took to the streets. Protests brought busy markets such as Karol Bagh, Paharganj, Lajpat Nagar and Sadar Bazar to a standstill as traders were up in arms against the Delhi Municipal Corporation's sealing drive. The ongoing strike will continue for 48 hours.
The protesting shopkeepers alleged that the “MCD is favouring certain establishments in lieu of bribes” and that they were "violating laws by carrying out sealing in areas that have been exempted under the Delhi Master Plan".
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) went on a two-day strike in the national capital starting Friday.
CAIT has demanded that a special task force be constituted to properly implement the ‘Delhi Master Plan’.
"We demand a special task force under the Delhi Governor comprising senior officials of the Ministry of Urban Development and Delhi government and even officials of the Delhi Police. This committee must be mandated to see the effective implementation of the master plan and protection of traders from sealing. It should be a time-bound programme and is necessary, because in Delhi, we have multiple authorities and hence it will get everyone on board and speed up the process," Parveen Khandelwal, CAIT Chairman told News18.
The otherwise bustling Bikaner Chowk in Karol Bagh wore a deserted look on Friday as shopkeepers, industrialists and traders took to the streets thumping chests and demanding a rollback of the sealing drive.
The ongoing sealing drive by the three BJP-controlled civic bodies was initiated by a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee and has been going on for a month.
The civic bodies have sealed over a 1,000 commercial establishment in the Karol Bagh area alone, for failing to deposit conversion charges. The drive was started to follow provisions in the Delhi Master Plan 2021.
Meanwhile, the ruling AAP has demanded that the central government either brings an ordinance or amends the master plan to stop the sealing drive.
Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Ajay Maken, hit out at both Aam Aadmi Party and BJP. The party has said that the sealing drive is a gross violation of laws.
“Sealing cannot happen in markets that existed before 1962, including Chandni Chowk, Paharganj, Shahdara Town and Sadar Bazar as the law only allows them to use their premises for commercial use without any documentary proof… If the committee does not listen to me, I will be constrained to approach the SC,” Maken said while addressing traders near Karol Bagh.
The drive to seal commercial establishments that are flouting provisions of the 2021 Master Plan began on January 7 at the Khan Market on the orders of a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee.
According to the plan, traders using properties for mixed purposes were required to pay a one-time conversion charge at the rate notified by the Delhi government.
Maken, former Union Minister of State for Urban Development — under whose tenure the Master Plan 2021 was designed — said additional floor area-ratio and basements should be allowed for commercial purposes in local shopping centres without the owners having to pay conversion charges as there were provisions in the law for it.
"Surprisingly, we sat for 45 minutes with the monitoring committee, showed the master plan in detail. But they did not have any answer. They authorities are only blackmailing the traders and filling up their own coffers. The sealing drive cannot happen in the special exempted areas of Paharganj, Karol Bagh. Para 16 of the report states that no such drive can be carried out unless a master plan is ready to develop these areas," Maken told News18.
Members of CAIT alleged that the "MCD is carrying out the sealing drive selectively" as they have been bribed.
"Over the past one and a half months, the MCD has been picking and choosing on whom to pull up. Heavy bribes to the tune of Rs 20 lakhs are being paid and some selected shops are not being sealed. We have enough evidence on our phones," CAIT members claimed.
However, most of the roadside hawkers were not convinced with the CAIT as they were not the ones being affected by the sealing but were being forced to shut their businesses to show "solidarity".
"I sell bangles and earn a few hundred rupees a day. This footpath is my shop but I have been threatened to not work here for the next two days. I cannot even work at any other place as the strike is all over the city," said Qutub Afshan, a hawker operating near Lajpat Nagar.