Delhi Demolitions
By Maxwell Pereira

Augustine, one of Christendom’s greatest saints, was walking along the breakers on the sea-shore deep in thought trying to unravel the mysteries of faith – dogmas required to be believed under pain of sin despite being not explainable through plain reason or rationality. He comes upon this boy repeatedly collecting in a shell a bit of seawater and emptying it into the small pit he had burrowed in the sand, and queries of him what on earth is he up to. On being told he is trying to empty the ocean into his pit, Augustine laughs and tells him of the futility of the exercise. But pat comes the retort, “Not as futile as what is exercising your mind! I might eventually succeed in emptying the sea, but you will never fathom the mysteries of faith”.

I am reminded of this story even as the futile juggernaut of demolitions rolls on in Delhi, a surface-scratching charade that the citizen has been subjected to not for the first time. In my 35 odd years in Delhi’s environs, I have not known a time when there have been no demolitions, and yet the illegal construction activity with rampant disregard to bye-laws and authority has rolled on unabated; making the problem so gigantic as to seem insurmountable.

The issue revolves around politicians, property owners, realtors and developers often termed the building mafia, corrupt administrators and civic authorities, law enforcers, petty clerks and even ordinary citizens who are facing the music, with the media playing the high and mighty role of a watchdog not with just their barks but shrill shrieks akin to those of banshees. With due respect to our judiciary, our courts cannot be absolved too of their own role and contribution! The cynic would want the crusading High Court also to start searching within, to know how much of what’s considered unauthorised was made possible under the umbrella of ‘stay orders’ given by courts.

As the judiciary is demanding a cleaning up of the capital's Aegean stables to rid it of eyesores, a much beleaguered Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) tries to throw up its hands at first saying 80 percent of Delhi is unauthorised, and then points fingers at 18,271 structures as the violating ones – which the courts unrealistically ask to be demolished in a span of four weeks. As commonly perceived, both figures quoted are grossly wrong – but this still does not lessen the magnitude of the problem.

The demolitions have left the common man fuming and pointing fingers at every local authority. People who believed they had invested safely by paying a little extra for legalising their unauthorised constructions suddenly find their lifetime's savings and secure homes crumbling. They are openly complaining that the civic authorities have taken money to allow buildings to come up and come now with orders to demolish when structures are ready and occupied. A lifetime’s toil turned to rubble with one knock of the bulldozer!

In a seemingly populist move, the court asks politicians to be targeted. In response the MCD hurriedly rustles up notices to a few, an exercise which appears as hotchpotch as any other by the MCD. The Lt. Governor busies himself showering praises on the civic body for scratching the surface of an infesting sore that is crying for cure.

Media columns are full of violations committed by the powerful, but the powerful have explanations galore – not explaining why they have violated, but questioning why they are being singled out for infamy. The court is satisfied – or so it seems, merely with the notices issued; and moves on to new vistas. Target the powerful, they direct. And the battle tanks of MCD turn their tracks and struggle to knock down edifices the likes of MG1 and MG2. Just two among structures that have sprung up literally over last two years in the Lal Dora of Sultanpur, Ghitorni and Ayanagar along the entire stretch of the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road.

That brings us to the unfettered free run the Lal Dora lands have enjoyed, enough to attract the big sharks. The court deserves kudos for taking a view, rightly or wrongly. But being targeted for the first time, one wonders whether the Justices have bitten here more than they can chew. The riled up 360 odd urban villages of Delhi convened their ‘maha-panchayat’ and determined to wage war against any violation by authorities of their unique right enjoyed so far. How the ruling government politically beleaguered on the issue now tackles this one is interesting to watch.

With due apologies to my friends who reside there, there is this question of Sainik Farms – the Vatican within India’s Rome. That abode of gods - where they administer their own amenities – electricity and water supply. A power centre with every palace and beautiful structure that defies the establishment and governmental norms – to tell all, keep off! How more hypocritical can we as crusaders get!

All illegal activity revolves round power structure. Zeroing in ultimately on how powerful you are and what you can get away with. Or how resourceful one is to access power structure to violate, influence and bulldoze – and then cock a snook at that rare one who still wants to uphold law. That money plays a major role is merely an under statement! Wasn’t it the cynic who said, “show me the face, and I will tell you the price for it?”

The result is this constant sea-saw battle of who wins in the end. Going by what one has witnessed in recent decades, and barring a few exceptions that tend to prove the rule, one is constrained to hang one’s head to admit it is invariably the wrong-doer who always does!

Feb 07, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// and


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