pedestrian’s rights

Willfully defying the law of the land

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Most of us prefer to grumble in the confines of our homes, hoping and praying that some angel of mercy will transform Delhi into a world-class city. But two brothers, chartered accountants by profession, recently took the bull by its horns by demanding a response from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the Delhi police. These two brothers from Pandav Nagar in East Delhi questioned why when there existed very specific and stringent provisions for dealing with repeated violations of the law, rampant encroachments continue to be tolerated. That they still harboured a hope that improvement was possible was itself heartening.

This is their story. Exasperated with continuing inaction against flagrant street encroachments, the two brothers meticulously listed road side shops selling mobile phones, cosmetics, hamburgers, sweets, shoes, electronic goods, photography services, provisions, clothing, hardware and offering motor repair services, giving complete details of each shop which had annexed about 15 feet of the street on a single road. The poor pedestrian had been as usual left to play hopscotch between the wares displayed on the pavements, to say nothing of the clientele that congregated there to take their pick. These were no petty hawkers peddling moongphali or polishing shoes but proper shops which had willfully, knowingly and illegally usurped public space for purely commercial ends. Why should the public put up with such repeated violations, the brothers demanded to be told.

Dutifully the three agencies totted up figures of action taken, which in their own admission had had no deterrent effect whatsoever, despite “raids” and confiscation of merchandise. Under the Municipal Corporation Act (1957), challans were filed on eight days in the whole year, which resulted in fines ranging from Rs 200 to a maximum of Rs 2,400 per person. This did not amount to even a rap on the knuckles. In comparison, the traffic police prosecuted hundreds of violators, but each case ended in a piffling fine of Rs 100 or a maximum of Rs 300. The offences ranged from violation of Supreme Court orders, dangerous driving, ignoring ‘No Entry’ signs, to improper parking. Unimpressed by the figures, the brothers demanded to be told why auto-rickshaws from Uttar Pradesh were plying in the area, ferrying six passengers per vehicle, many driven by children? When plying without a permit is prohibited and Section 192 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 expressly provides that repeated violations end in “imprisonment for one year, and which shall not be less than three months with fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 but shall not be less than Rs 5,000”, why were these provisions never enforced? How could the officials whose attention was physically drawn to the goings-on, turn a blind eye?

Continuing their polite but firm inquisition, the siblings then drew attention to the provisions of Section 461(2) of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act (1957) which expressly provides that “projections and encroachments that obstruct safe and convenient passage or any construction that overhangs, juts out or interferes with proper use of the street by way of walls, booths, structures and which causes obstruction or encroachment or occupies any portion of the street” can incur imprisonment (simple) for six months and a fine of Rs 5,000 or both. Again, when such provisions exist, why were they never been used, demanded the public spirited duo.

From the district police, they sought to know why they were filing cases under Section 283 of Indian Penal Code which only leads to a paltry fine of Rs 200, when the Penal Code specifically describes a “public nuisance” as “one which causes injury, danger or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who live or occupy property in the vicinity”. Why were such provisions of law never used, despite repeated public complaints? Under Sections 268 and 291 IPC, repeated violations could lead to six months imprisonment or fine or both. But again these provisions had not been used, even once. This, when the law expressly states that a “common nuisance” is not to be excused on the ground that it causes “some convenience” or “some advantage”. When the provisions were so explicit how could the authorities disregard the automobile workshops, illegal platforms, kiosks, windows, doors and staircases which opened on to the street and for that matter everything that stood in the public right of way?

Full marks to the two citizens who have drawn attention to this abysmal apathy and failure to enforce the law. That they did despite being pursued with threats and a visitation asking them to “lay off”, makes it all the more commendable. The good news is that the authorities have finally responded that indeed the provisions do exist and instructions are under issue to implement the identified sections of the law. Let us hope along with the two Pandav Nagar brothers that things may yet change.

A former municipal commissioner of Surat who won awards and accolades for cleaning up Surat told me how he had taken recourse to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984 – a succinct two page legislation having All-India application. Under that law, “interfering with the production, distribution or supply of water, light, power or sewage works, etc., “constitutes mischief”. Any such offence “shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months and which may extend to five years and fine”. Why then do we mollycoddle people who steal water, break water pipelines and dig unauthorised wells in their backyards? For that matter, all those who erect illegal hoardings on electric poles, dig footpaths and pavements for personal needs can be put behind bars. Any municipal commissioner who paves the way should win national acclaim and at least a Padma Shri.

If the authorities do not act, sooner or later the public is going to do so. What has been described above is not just my personal view of how Delhi should be cleaned with a broomstick. It is what the public is demanding with perfect logic and legitimacy. If the law of the land describes offences and when much worse is going on under one’s nose, why should the law which expressly provides for imprisonment be ignored? The way citizens are doing their homework, the day is not far off when more than bijli, pani and sadak it will be (non) enforcement of law which will be the test of good governance. At least in Delhi.