ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Delhi : Clearing the Air

Delhi : Clearing the Air

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The residents of the nation’s capital not only have to face alarming levels of pollution, but also the political fall-out of the Delhi administration’s misdemeanours. For years, illegal polluting enterprises have been functioning in residential areas in Delhi causing immeasurable environmental damage. Last week, citizens also had to suffer the arson and violence that resulted from the government’s knee-jerk response to a Supreme Court order reprimanding it for not shifting or closing these polluting units. As the central and state governments continue to flip-flop over the issue, it is clear that there has been flagrant violation of laws and rules.

Innumerable industrial units – over 1,00,000 by one count – dot the by-lanes of Delhi and are located next to houses and schools. Employing on average 12-13 persons, these enterprises produce a variety of products from stationery items to electronic goods. They have been classified as ‘non-conforming’ as they are located in residential areas as delineated by the Delhi Master Plan. Since 1996, the Supreme Court has been ordering the shifting of these industries, but with no effect. The Delhi government not only ignored the order, but also permitted as many as 15,000 new industrial units to come up in the residential areas. Subsequently, in September 1999, the court pronounced that its order must be complied with by December 1999. This too was ignored. Now, on November 14, the Supreme Court has issued a show cause notice for contempt to Delhi’s chief secretary and the commissioner of the municipal corporation of Delhi for the government’s failure to carry out the order. An outbreak of violence ensued following this order, with workers from affected industrial units taking to the streets to protest against the closure or shifting of the enterprises. The Delhi administration attempted to implement the order and closed about 600 units, but once the level of violence rose, Delhi’s chief minister, Sheila Dixit, began asking for a change in the Delhi Master Plan, and requested more time from the Supreme Court to implement its order. The court has refused to oblige. The threat of continuing violence and pleas from the Delhi government have led union urban development minister Jagmohan to agree to consider a change in the definition of household units and possibly amendment of the Delhi plan as well. In effect, this could mean that about 70 per cent of the industrial units could continue to be located in residential areas. The Delhi government has been claiming that it would start shifting water-polluting units, but has refused to specify any time frame.

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