No provision in the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 allows the use of basement of Local Shopping Centres (LSCs) for business activities, MCD officials and sources in the Supreme Court committee that ordered the sealing of unauthorised shops in Delhi told The Sunday Guardian, strongly defending their ongoing drive. Traders have opposed the sealing as “snatching away of the basic fundamentals of the MCD Act, 1957” from them.

The sources and the MCD officials reiterated that according to MPD 2021, the floors above the ground floor can run commercial activities under the permissible FAR (floor area ratio) and applicable use of conversion charges, but not the basement. There can be, however, limited use of the basement in new notified areas and residential areas that have been converted for “mixed-use”. 

“According to the city’s Master Plan 2021, the basement in LSCs is not for running commercial establishments. Even in notified areas it can only be used for limited purpose such as storing surplus. The MPD is a law and it has been passed by the Parliament,” a member of the SC-appointed committee monitoring the sealing of illegal commercial establishments in Delhi told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity.   

As many as seven lakh traders backed by nearly 2,000 trade associations participated in a “vyapar bandh” protest called on Tuesday. They alleged that their shops were being sealed on flimsy grounds. The traders claimed that despite paying Rs 4,375 per square metre as the “use conversion charges” for their basements and Rs 6,138 per sq metre for additional FAR for the floors above in 2010, their shops are being sealed. 

“In 1998, 106 markets were recognised as local shopping centres where commercial activity was allowed on all the floors—basement to top floor. The MPD 2001 did not mention anything about the conversion charges. When the MPD 2021 was announced, use-conversion charges were levied and we paid that. But our shops are being sealed,” said Vijay Kumar, president, South Extension I market association. 

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) secretary general Praveen Khandelwal asserted that the interpretation of the monitoring has been done on flimsy ground and areas declared as commercial areas have been in existence for decades.“The local shopping centres were given on commercial rates and now conversion charge is being demanded and sealing is conducted without giving any notice, which can’t be justified. The entire sealing proceedings are being run in a dictatorial manner keeping aside the MCD Act, 1957,” Praveen Khandelwal told this newspaper. 

However, the SC-committee member quoted earlier maintained that the order passed is in compliance with the existing laws as noted in the Master Plan 2021.  He said that it was a pure “connivance” between the traders and whosoever charged them the said “use conversion charge” for the basement, as such an “arrangement” was not supported by the provisions of the MPD 2021. 

The leader of the House in the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Shikha Rai, told this reporter that the standard plans in existence do not allow commercial activities in the basement. “No doubt the traders might have paid the conversion charges but that doesn’t mean it was regularised. The standard plans stipulate that basements cannot run commercial activities in LSCs,” Rai pointed out. Rai further noted that it is not within the powers of the MCD to regularise any unauthorised constructions, even if the shop owners paid the conversion charges for the basements. “How can the MCD regularise something that is not permitted? The MCD is the enforcing agency and we don’t have the authority to regularise any activity that doesn’t fall under the provisions of the standard plan,” she contended. 

Rai, however, criticised the SC-appointed committee for extending its scope and roping in the LSCs in its order. She confirmed that the Municipal Corporation is urging the Centre to come up with some amnesty scheme that can provide relief to the traders. “The Committee is expanding their scope under the garb that these shopping areas once used to be residential areas. Their misinterpretation has led to the harassment of the traders. However, we are doing our best to help the traders. We are approaching the Centre to increase their FAR and let them use the basement after paying the conversion charges,” she told this correspondent. 

Claims and counter-claims

The sealing drive was undertaken by the MCD on 22 December after the three-member Committee appointed by the apex court, back in 2006, recorded “violations of laws” by the commercial establishments in Delhi. 

Adhering to the orders, the MCD started the sealing drive. To provide some relief to the agitated traders, the conversion charges were reduced from Rs 89,090 per square metre to Rs 22,274 per square metre for 80 local markets falling in A-D categories.“It’s our compulsion to follow the orders. We are helping the traders in the best possible ways we can. We requested the ministry and managed to reduce the use conversion charges to Rs 22,000. We are trying our best to bring relief to the traders and very soon we will see some positive outcomes,” South Delhi Mayor Kamaljeet Sehrawat told The Sunday Guardian. Praveen Khandelwal demanded immediate intervention of the government. “None of the constitutional provisions envisaged in the MCD Act 1957 were adhered to during the sealing drive. The mushrooming of commercial shops was common knowledge for decades but no action was taken by the MCD under section 407, 408, 409 and 410 to check that,” Khandelwal argued.

But North Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor Preeti Aggarwal said the MCD was not responsible for the drive: “It should be very clear that this drive has not been initiated by the MCD. We are only implementing the orders issued by the SC. We are trying to figure out possible ways to get some relief for the traders. We have written to the commissioner of the MCD to relax the interests and the penalties,” she said.

During the day-long protest on Tuesday, which caused Rs 125 crore revenue loss to the government, the traders demanded the Centre to bring an ordinance, an amnesty scheme for commercial activities on “as is where is” basis as on 31 December 2017. They also demanded the implementation of the proposed FAR of 350 or 400-500. 

“All the successive governments managed to only develop 16% of the required commercial spaces and, therefore, people started going vertically. The 1998 amnesty scheme regularised the unauthorised constructions and the compoundable amount was charged. The government must look into it because these businesses have been running for decades now,” noted Vijay Kumar. 

The traders have decided to observe a 48-hour trade bandh spanning 2 and 3 February.

According to Khandelwal, traders will demand a bill in the forthcoming session of the Parliament.