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Statute test set for Sheila's master plan

New Delhi, Nov. 30: The Supreme Court today dealt a blow to the Delhi government by deciding to test the constitutional validity of its proposal to amend the Master Plan of Delhi 2001-21 to allow in situ regularisation of industries in residential areas.

In a sharp reaction to the government's proposal that would have led to an exodus of people living in residential areas illegally encroached by industries between 1991-2001, the bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal, Tarun Chatterjee and P.P. Naolekar said that the move would violate the residents' fundamental right to life.

In an omnibus order issued on May 7, the court had directed the Delhi government to close down within five months all those industries, except household industries, which were set up after August 1, 1990, in residential and non-conforming areas.

'The covert permission allowing industries to operate from residential areas amounted to violation of the right to life of these residents guaranteed under Article 21,' the order had observed.

The bench today said: 'Our attention has been drawn to the public notice of November 4 published in the official gazette inviting objections and suggestions in respect of modification proposed in the Delhi Master Plan 2001.'

'It goes without saying that while considering the modification of the Master Plan, the government would have due regard to the aspects that have been mentioned while considering the matter earlier,' the bench added in a clear reference that it would keep in mind the residents' fundamental right to life.

The bench said that 'due regard, both in letter and spirit, will of course be given to those who are residents of the localities which are under consideration for in situ regularisation through amendment of the Master Plan'.

The court observed that unlike the government, it had no political or other compulsions. 'The government has compulsions, political or otherwise. We have none. We have to see that the changes made in the Master Plan are within the constitutional framework.'

The bench wanted to know whether any industry situated within the contemplated in-situ regularisation zone had been shifted or closed in keeping with the May 7 directive.

Giving in to pressure from the industries that were facing imminent closure, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had announced a couple of months ago a decision to amend the Delhi Master Plan 2001 after meetings with Union urban development minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Small manufacturers and owners of small industries had gone on an indefinite strike in September in protest against the court order and withdrawn it after five days on the Delhi government's assurance to approach the apex court regarding the closure deadline.

The proposed amendment would permit in situ regularisation of industries located in residential areas, provided their concentration was 70 per cent or more.

The May 7 court order had strongly criticised both the Centre and the Delhi government for changing their stand on shifting of industries, both within Parliament and outside. It had also come down heavily on the government for its lapses leading to mushrooming of industries in residential areas.

The court had observed that by allowing regularisation of industries, the governments were penalising law-abiding citizens who had bought the residential plots with a view to leading a peaceful life in a clean and fresh environment.

While giving four months for the closure of F-category industries (most polluting), the May 7 order had asked the government to close down light service-sector industries within five months.

Giving six months for closure of impermissible household industries, the bench had directed the Centre to finalise within three months the list of household industries that could be allowed to continue.

The bench had directed the Delhi government to announce a policy within six weeks giving such incentives as it deemed fit to the industrial units established after August 1, 1990, and facing closure on the apex court's order.

The court had made it clear that non-announcement of the policy would in no way affect the deadline it had set for their closure.

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