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Issue #7: The Case That Threw Delhi Into Chaos

India Ink
Issue #7: The Case That Threw Delhi Into Chaos
By India Ink Team • Issue #7 • View online
Hello readers!
Here’s Part Two of our series on PILs! In this issue, we focus on the ultimate example of how a case in the “public interest” can become a wrecking ball rolling through a city, knocking down anything in its path. It’s a bizarre story and if you’re not well-versed with the law in India, you’re probably going to be shocked that any of this is possible.
We also have the latest in our look behind the scenes where we discuss how we came up with this particular article design and layout.
Then, we have the “Why You Should Read This” section. This is a lesson that journalists have painfully learned – everything needs a hook. In this section, we tell readers why this article is relevant to them, usually by placing it within some current debate. For example, a paper about dravidian politics was relevant as old debates were renewed in the run-up to elections in Tamil Nadu. It also contains word counts so audiences can know how much time we’ve saved them. (One academic suggested we add a “zzz-meter” to rate how boring a paper was to read – we decided that maybe that would be rude, hmm.
We’re also hard at work on our next video. Expect that within a week or so!
The India Ink Team

How The Whims Of A Few Judges Threw Delhi Into A Decade Of Chaos
  1. The PIL known as Writ Petition (Civil) 4677, filed in 1985, completely transformed the city of Delhi. It was initially a case about air pollution caused by stone-crushing units. Over the years, it expanded to deal with pollution in the Yamuna river, mining in the Aravalli hills, and “encroachment” in the forests in Delhi — among other issues. The case, which “almost single-handedly led to the deindustrialization of Delhi,” is technically ongoing even today.
  2. In 1996, Justice Kuldip Singh, who had taken over the case, ordered 168 large polluting industrial units to relocate outside Delhi within five months. This order was a jackpot for factory owners — they could now fire all their workers without worrying about labor laws and sell the prime real estate they owned. The workers were supposed to be compensated, but most weren’t and the Court refused to hear their complaints.
  3. In 2000, the case made news again. It began with Justice Singh ordering all factories in Delhi located in “residential” areas to relocate to “industrial” areas. After the government delayed implementing the order, the Court lost patience and declared that all the factories be shut down immediately. Overnight, thousands of workers lost their jobs and riots broke out.
  4. By now, the Court had begun to see the democratic responsibilities of the government as a roadblock. The Court knew that its orders “would adversely affect the livelihood and business of hundreds of thousands of voters,” and yet it implemented them, circumventing democracy by taking the decision out of the hands of elected representatives.
  5. In 2005, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal took over the PIL. Pollution was now forgotten as the case found an entirely new target: commercial establishments in residential areas, which were all ordered to be relocated. This was impossible because there just wasn’t enough commercial land. But the court refused to budge and announced a 30-day deadline.
  6. But this time, the Court’s targets, the commercial class of Delhi, were powerful enough to get the government to come to their aid. This led to a back-and-forth of judicial orders and government notifications resulting in thousands of shops being sealed and unsealed and then sealed again.
  7. Finally, in 2007, the government tried to end the whole mess by notifying a brand new Master Plan for Delhi, which removed the restrictions that were the basis of the Court’s orders so far. In the same year, Justice Sabharwal retired. And with that, the PIL’s lifespan seemed to be at an end.
  8. The sting in the tale of this saga is that after Sabharwal’s retirement, an investigation unearthed the fact that both his sons were developing malls, i.e, commercial spaces that would rise in demand when shops in residential areas had to shut down. The journalists who exposed these facts were jailed. Sabharwal would later complain that the case had lost him many friends.
  9. The story of Writ Petition (Civil) 4677 reveals how PILs can allow a judge to wake up one day and start dictating sweeping orders on complex issues that turn the lives of people upside-down. And since they can do this without hearing the people who would be affected, class bias and abuse of this power seems almost guaranteed.
(Remember, this is just a summary and the extra details on our website only this story stranger and scarier!)
How the whims of a few judges threw Delhi into a decade of chaos - India Ink
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India Ink Team

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