The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shops sealed, and Congress
- Affluent localities targeted first to send message of fairness

New Delhi, Nov. 8: Lowering shutters and melting red wax on white gauze tied around a lock, municipal officers moved from one locality to another, as sealing of illegal commercial establishments in residential areas resumed today.

Some distance away, worried Congress leaders contradicted each other, desperately seeking a way out of the crisis that threatens to seal the party’s electoral fate in the capital. Seven Congress councillors have already resigned.

From South Extension to Maharani Bagh, some of Delhi’s most posh localities were targeted today, in an attempt to assuage concerns among poorer traders that they would be the only targets while the “big fish” would escape.

The decision, mooted by the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee, may have worked to an extent as smaller traders by and large stayed away from protests today.

“We have to earn our livelihood. We cannot strike any more,” said Ramnivas Sharma, a shopkeeper at Laxmi Nagar, an area not in the immediate line of targets for sealing.

Their turn will come after the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is done with A and B category areas, largely upscale south Delhi localities.

Without the numbers, bigger trader leaders appeared resigned to the sealing — about a hundred courted arrest, shouting slogans.

Shopping arcades like CTC Plaza and Metro Mall — both on Ring Road — were sealed. Designer jewellery showrooms — four were sealed today — for once would have wished their advertisement hoardings weren’t so attractive.

In the next few days, Greater Kailash, Panchsheel Enclave and Gulmohar Park would be among other upscale areas where shops would be sealed. All these lie in category A and B localities that have the best social and physical infrastructure and the largest plots.

Only after that will the MCD officials move to more moderate-income areas.

About noon, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit asked the “traders to understand the government has no option but to implement the Supreme Court’s order”.

“But the police should help the traders,” she added while stepping out of the Assembly.

Her “message”, however, had obviously not got through with the police wielding lathis at protesters violating restrictions under Section 144 in areas where sealing was being carried out.

“How else should we deal with people who might otherwise stone us'” asked a constable at Maharani Bagh.

If the chief minister’s message was perplexing, Delhi Congress MP Kapil Sibal’s statement, traders said, was like “rubbing salt into our wounds”.

After the sealing for the day was over, Sibal, also a member of a group of ministers looking into sealing, said: “The sealing must stop immediately. A committee can be formed to look into solutions while the master plan is brought.”

A day earlier, urban development minister Jaipal Reddy had spoken on behalf of the group of minister and, like Dikshit, expressed helplessness. The group will meet the cabinet tomorrow.

“One day we are told to accept our fate. The next day the government says the sealing must stop. They are just playing games with us,” said Pravin Khandelwal, general secretary of the All India Traders’ Association.

Even if the traders had faith in the government, there was not much it could do with the Supreme Court having dismissed its petitions against sealing. Schools in the capital, which were ordered shut amid fears of a violent traders’ backlash, will open tomorrow.

The government advisory, however, leaves private schools the option of staying shut, if they perceive safety risks or are close to spots where sealing may occur.

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