The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a tongue-lashing to the Centre, Delhi government and civic agencies for their failure to stop unauthorised constructions in the national capital, saying that "lungs" of the citizens, especially children, were "damaged" due to inaction of the authorities.
The top court was critical of the continuous inaction by the authorities and said that the people of Delhi were suffering with problems such as pollution, parking and lack of green areas due to the issues arising out of unauthorised constructions.
"People of Delhi are suffering. Children are suffering. Our lungs are already damaged. Lungs of our children will also be damaged. Why? Because the Union of India, Delhi government, Delhi Development Authority (DDA), municipal corporations of Delhi (MCDs) say you can do whatever you want but we will not do anything," a bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
The apex court told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A N S Nadkarni, representing the Centre, that unless the authorities would realise that the people of Delhi were important, nothing would change.
"People of Delhi are not cattles ...Everybody has some respect in the society," the bench said, adding there was a "continuous default" on the part of authorities since 2006 in this matter.
Nadkarni suggested that the top court should monitor the situation and the authorities should be asked to perform their duties in a time-bound manner.
"We are not policemen. Why should we do it?," the bench asked, adding, "Does the Supreme Court has nothing more to do?".
When Nadkarni argued that the apex court has monitored several issues in the past, the bench shot back, "You are doing nothing that is why we have to monitor several things".
"When the Supreme Court says something, it is said there is judicial activism and judicial overreach. This is happening. The Government of India can shut its eyes but we cannot. We have the constitutional obligations," the bench said.
It also questioned the government about the protests and 'dharnas' by the traders against the ongoing sealing drive.
When Nadkarni again said that the apex court should monitor it, Justice Lokur said, "Then there will be dharna outside my house."
The Centre told the bench that there was no doubt that Delhi is in a "mess" but its intention was to make everything orderly and organised in the national capital.
The ASG said striking down the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 and subsequent legislations, which protect unauthorised construction from being sealed, was not a solution to the problem and it was the task of the Delhi government and local bodies to ensure that regulations were adhered to.
He said the Centre would hold discussions with all the authorities concerned and come out with suggestions so that the problems could be solved.
The advocates representing the Delhi government, DDA, the court-appointed monitoring committee agreed to the ASG's suggestion and said they would deliberate upon the issue and a meeting should be held in the office of the law officer.
The bench allowed the contention and said, "We expect that senior officials, who are in a position to take decision, would participate in the meeting, including the officials from the Delhi government, DDA, MCDs and Ministry of Urban Development and Housing."
The bench, which posted the matter for hearing on April 9, also asked the Centre as to what it has done about commercial establishments in residential areas here and said there were big car showrooms, restaurants and big shops in such areas.
The Centre said any commercial establishments in residential areas which were violating law, would have to go.
When the Centre said that the Delhi government and other civic agencies have the power to regulate, the bench said, "You also have the power. You cannot say that you do not have the power and you are powerless. You cannot say so".
The bench also clarified that it was not going to touch small traders who were selling essential commodities like milk and bread in the residential areas but the restaurants, which are operating without any fire safety norms in residential areas, and showrooms such as that of cars and clothes would have to go.
It referred to the last year's fire incident in restaurants at Kamala Mills compound in Mumbai, in which several people died, and said that even in Delhi, several restaurants were operating from first floor of the buildings in residential areas that too without any fire safety clearance.
The bench referred to the chequered history of unauthorised constructions and colonies in Delhi and said, "It is a 30-year-old problem. What have you done in these 30 years. The MCD was granting licences left, right and centre without having any concern for anybody."
"There is gross misuse of commercial establishments in residential areas. You have a 30-year explanation to give to the people of Delhi," the bench said, adding, "People of Delhi are not relevant to you."
The top court is hearing arguments on the validity of the 2006 Act and subsequent legislations which protect unauthorised construction from being sealed.