The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Capital of chaos at mob mercy

New Delhi, Sept. 20: India’s capital today came face to face with the urban Frankenstein its political class has sired.

West Asia-style street skirmishes broke out in several stretches of Delhi against a drive to weed out commercial establishments from residential neighbourhoods, spilling blood on a blueprint to make the capital a world-class city and challenging the invincibility of the legal process.

Faced with hordes of shopkeepers railing against a persistent effort by the Supreme Court to uphold a master plan meant to transform the city by 2021, police opened fire.

At least two boys and a man died, though officials refused to confirm the casualties.

But hospital authorities confirmed to The Telegraph that bullet wounds were responsible for the deaths of two boys — one 7, the other 14 — and another person.

Nearly a hundred civilians and around 20 policemen were injured in the protests, centred on the north-east Seelampur area.

The Delhi civic body’s sealing drive has been going on for several months, but the most violent clash between traders and the administration came on a day shop owners had called a bandh.

A policeman beats a protester in Delhi. (AP)

“We have all joined this strike because we see this (drive) to be unfair,” said Neeraj Sharma, a manager of a garment shop in Connaught Place.

The Supreme Court had last year ordered the sealing of all commercial establishments in residential areas.

The court order had set rolling not only a demolition drive, which targeted shops of commoners as well as celebrities, but also a game of political expediency.

If the ruling Congress balked at the backlash and the certain loss of the trader vote bank, the listless BJP saw in it an opportunity to revive its fortunes. Soon, most parties got together and pushed through Parliament concessions for the traders.

A response in a similar vein was in evidence today, too, with the urban development minister suggesting that even a special session of Parliament can be called to get around the court order. However, how feasible this plan is remains to be seen.

The explosion of violence today was symptomatic of a cancerous disease that has afflicted India’s boomtowns.

Endemic corruption — blessed by politicians — and lax law-enforcement — ensured by officials — have led to construction chaos in Delhi, as in other cities across the country. Hundreds of thousands of buildings have sprung up illegally across the capital, often built with little regard for safety, aesthetics or zoning laws.

By moving against the illegal shops, the Supreme Court was making a beginning — a drive that had turned itself into a test case with implications for the rest of the country.

But the sealing effort almost came to a standstill today with the corporation acting against only 24 of the thousands of illegal establishments.

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