| A policeman on guard in a Delhi market after traders downed shutters on Monday. (AFP)
New Delhi, Nov. 6: Paramilitary troops took up position and trader leaders planned to go into hiding as Delhi teetered on the edge of chaos and violence today with the government preparing to follow a Supreme Court order to resume sealing.
The court shot down petitions by the Centre, Delhi government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which had cited the standard plea of law and order problems if the drive was carried out.
“One of the arguments given is public reaction,” the bench said, noting that the same argument was offered by past governments to explain inaction during the 1984 Sikh massacres and the Gujarat and Mumbai killings.
“Government’s stand in all such situations was that because of the public reaction we are unable to take action…. You think that 25,000 people (traders) by putting dagger on the throat of someone can hold (the) entire people’s right, life, liberty and property to ransom and government is helpless'”
Almost immediately, the Centre and Delhi government went into a huddle to discuss options. By the time the ministers emerged four hours later, a police and paramilitary bustle had begun confirming the traders’ worst fears.
Urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy declared the government had no choice but to resume the sealing, but it would try and ensure peace.
The streets were tense as traders called a 24-hour bandh tomorrow and an anxious police prepared for violent protests. Paramilitary forces were already positioning themselves in parts of west and east Delhi, where firing had killed three during a traders’ bandh against sealing last month.
Government schools will be closed for the next two days, and private schools have been asked to do the same.
Although the MCD comes under Reddy’s ministry, Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi government could face a severe fallout. Delhi Congress chief Rambabu Sharma, whose differences with Dikshit are well known, today backed a BJP-initiated resolution in the Assembly that asks the chief minister to seek the Prime Minister’s direct intervention.
The intervention could be in two forms — a constitutional amendment overriding the court’s ruling, or a fast-track implementation of the Delhi Masterplan 2021. Government officials expect the latter.
The masterplan would legalise the commercial establishments in residential areas — the bone of contention — giving the government and traders at least a breather.
An apex court-appointed panel, and not the government, will decide when the sealing restarts. The committee, which meets tomorrow, is likely to recommend immediate resumption.
MCD officials say some two lakh traders have illegal commercial establishments, of whom about 25,000 have handed the court an affidavit promising to shut down their shops. Ironically, these traders — the only ones to admit to illegal use of land— will face sealing first.
The Delhi Special Laws Act, passed in Parliament to save the majority of traders from sealing, has been criticised by the court, but shops protected by it will not be sealed till a verdict is passed on the act.
Other than the 25,000, about 5,500 traders whose establishments are illegal even under the special laws act face sealing.
Several leaders of the traders were tonight planning to go underground, fearing arrest.“We may have to lead the protests while in hiding,” Purshottam Garg said.