The illegally parked trucks are back, as are the plump gunny bags on the roads. The unauthorised vendors have reclaimed the pavements and the counters of the shops are once more jutting into the passageways. It is as if Khari Baoli never saw the massive encroachment removal drive on Monday. The ineffectiveness of such clearance drives directed by the Supreme Court-created Special Task Force is also evident at Naya Bazar down the road and in Azadpur.
It takes only a couple of days for vehicles, carts and items seized in anti-encroachment action to make a return in the chaotic marketplaces. Sanjay Bhargava, who heads the Chandni Chowk Vyapar Mandal, shrugs and mutters, “Dhak ke teen paat.” For him the Hindi proverb about the dhak tree never changing its foliage sums up the futility of STF’s encroachment drives. “Re-encroachment is the biggest problem. The Supreme Court has made the area SHO responsible for re-encroachments, but the civic agencies and encroachers are together in the racket,” Bhargava alleged.
In its report, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation claimed that over 2,600 square metres had been cleared of encroachments in Khari Baoli, four truckloads of goods seized and some structures demolished. But as Ram Lal, a trader in the spice market, maintained, “The aim of such drives is not to clear streets but to produce action-taken figures in the court. The vendors recover the seized goods by paying a small fine, so what is the point of it all?”
Officials in the civic bodies admit that the minimal fine for the release of seized items is a drawback. “A vendor pays a mere Rs 500 to get his stuff back,” an official said. “We know this sum is not a deterrent, but the penalties have to be revised from the top, not at our level.”
Lack of manpower, few JCB excavators, pickup vans and trucks are other reasons why the efforts yield so little. When TOI accompanied the enforcement team at RK Puram, the mere hint of the presence of an anti-encroachment team — colloquially called the “committee people” — led to the market quickly winding up before the violators could be targeted. “We have only one JCB and a few trucks for each team, so we cannot target a market from various points simultaneously,” an official rued.
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Chetan Sharma, general secretary of Confederation of NCR RWAs, said that his locality of Greater Kailash II has seen clearance drives but little change on the ground. “There are ramps, illegal car parking and gardens outside homes, and often corner houses push 7-8ft into the roads,” Sharma pointed out. “Yet these are not targeted. STF seems to be simply collecting figures to submit to the court.”
Rejimon CK, president of Dwarka Forum, categorised the actions similarly as “cosmetic”. “We need systemic changes such as not returning the seized items, police FIRs for encroachments and strict monitoring through drones,” he said. And BS Vohra of East Delhi RWAs said unless the activities of the vendors were regulated, no real change could be ushered in.