The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court stands up to dagger raj
Institution is above masses: Judge

New Delhi, Nov. 6: The Supreme Court today reminded the world’s biggest democracy that it should not be held to ransom by dagger-wielding mobs bent on enforcing street justice.

The blunt advice came in response to the government’s customary plea that potential law-and-order problems are standing in the way of implementing an order to seal illegal shops in residential areas of the capital.

The court told the Centre, the Delhi government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to maintain the sanctity of the Constitution of India by rendering full assistance in implementing its order on sealing the commercial establishments.

Rejecting applications seeking a stay on the operation in view of law and order problems, a bench headed by Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal said a handful of law violators could not put a dagger on the throat of the government and hold “the life and liberty” of citizens to ransom.

“I am upset not for anything else, I’m upset for the institution of this court…. My worry is that if this is the stand of anyone in the Supreme Court, what will be the position of the high court and other courts which issue injunctions.... Such things would then have to be decided on the streets,’’ the chief justice said.

The observation came while the bench rejected four applications by the Centre, Delhi government and the MCD seeking to temporarily suspend the sealing drive keeping the “sensitive and volatile” situation in the capital in mind. The judge said it was a “political move”.

“(An) institution is more important than any number of people. They (traders) must be told about the importance of law. There will be no democracy if there is no rule of law,’’ Sabharwal said, while directing the resumption of the sealing drive.

When senior counsel for MCD Abhishek Singhvi cited “law and order problems”, the court shot back that the same argument was used to justify the government’s failure to contain the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and those in Gujarat and Mumbai.

“The government’s stand in all such situations was that because of the public reaction, we are unable to take action,” the chief justice said. “Can the government say that we were unable to handle (violence) because of public reaction'”

The bench said law and order problems had cropped up because of hopes generated by the government. The authorities, instead of moving applications, should have asked the traders to comply with the orders.

The government had also said policemen deputed during festivals would lead to a shortage of manpower to carry out the sealing. The court countered that the sealing is to be done area-wise and not at one go. It directed the Centre and the Delhi government to provide the force necessary for the operation.

The court turned down the Centre’s appeal for temporary relief for 25,000 traders who had filed affidavits promising to close down their shops.

The court clarified that it had not ordered demolition and only wanted traders to close their shops till there was a law to protect them. An act exempting the traders is under a judicial review. The authorities will resort to sealing only if shutters are not down, the court said.


How did the sealing drive start'

Residents’ Welfare Associations were the original
petitioners to the Supreme Court. The Municipal
Corporation of Delhi (MCD) then supported the plea.

What did the court do'

The court ordered that illegal shops (dealing in non-essential activities) in residential areas be sealed. Such shops number over 2 lakh. (The earlier demolition drive in Delhi was unrelated and covered illegal construction.)

Why has the MCD changed its stand now'

The Congress-dominated MCD was forced to alter its stand after over 2 lakh traders took to the streets and the BJP joined hands with them.

What did the Centre do'

The Centre passed a bill for a one-year moratorium on the sealing.

What happened to the bill'

Still under judicial review. But the court has criticised the act and has told the government to resume sealing.

Who are the 25,000 traders that the government wants exemption for'

The court had earlier assured traders that those who voluntarily confessed to illegal shops and subsequently shut them down would be exempt from sealing. As many as 25,000 traders — the government had initially said 42,000 — filed affidavits, thinking this was the only option before them. Then came the act, which exempted all traders from
sealing. The court said that until the validity of the act was decided, traders would be exempt from sealing. But since the 25,000 traders had kept the shops open despite agreeing to shut them, the court said the sealing drive should start with them.

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