By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 17 Oct: District Development Authorities in the state have resorted to harassing the common people by sending them totally irrelevant notices in respect of their properties. These authorities are sending notices to even the villagers asking them to show records of permission for construction of their properties as old as forty or even fifty years. It may be pertinent to point here that these development authorities were previously meant to regulate construction activities and plan for the urban areas only. In the villages, they had no jurisdiction and the villagers were not required to get their house plans approved by any agency. However, when the BJP Government came to power in 2017, various urban development authorities were upgraded to the level of district development authorities and their jurisdiction extended to the entire district including the MDDA, which too has its jurisdiction extended to the entire district. After that, the development authorities started issuing notices to all and sundry even in cases where the construction was forty or fifty year old, when the MDDA was not even in existence. Not only this, notices have been issued even in cases where there is no permanent construction but temporary tin sheds have been erected to do some business. Clearly, the MDDA can’t question erection of temporary tin sheds by the owners on their own property as no permission or approval is required for the same! It is totally irrelevant whether the temporary structure is being used for commercial or non commercial purposes, particularly in a commercial area as it is not the authority of the MDDA to approve businesses. However, a large number of notices have been issued to owners of temporary sheds asking them why they have been indulging in commercial activities without approval. Now, when the permission to install temporary tin sheds without doing any pucca construction with cement is simply not required, how can the MDDA grant permission to run any activity in the temporary structures? Unofficially speaking, sources inside the MDDA admit that permission for tin sheds is neither sought by the people nor is it mandatory under the present rules. As such, issuing notices on tin sheds is nothing but harassing people. It may be pointed out here that many of the tin shed owners are not rich persons and are doing small businesses such as workshops for two and four wheelers, food stalls, selling vegetables or fruits or a shop for tyre puncture repairs, etc. For example, Haridwar Bypass Road is a highway which has large showrooms of auto dealers, electronic items, hardware and paint shops, schools and wedding points, etc. As such, it is already a commercial area and, hence, running commercial activity here is not similar to running commercial activities in areas or zones marked as residential areas. The Haridwar Bypass was a village area not long ago where the MDDA did not have its jurisdiction. However, it has issued notices to property owners asking them to show map approvals even in cases where buildings were constructed before 1985 when the MDDA did not exist, the Haridwar Bypass did not exist and it was a rural area. Officially, the MDDA officials say that notices have been issued following the High Court’s orders to demolish encroachments and illegal buildings and that there is no need for panic. However, in reality, those receiving such notices are now running from pillar to post and are apprehensive of possible demolition even when their houses or buildings are older than 1983. It may be recalled that, on the one hand, the MDDA is issuing notices in big number to even erstwhile rural properties, and on the other, it has a habit to sit on and keep pending cases related to illegal construction for months or even years together where the property owners are powerful persons. And in many such cases, after issuing notices, the officials quietly approve compounding of illegal constructions, even where the compounding is not permissible under the rules. And it is not just the MDDA, but all the district development authorities in the state which are indulging in similar acts. It may be recalled that the issue was raised by the Opposition as well as Treasury Members in the State Assembly during the Budget Session. In fact, some readers of Garhwal Post from Kotdwar have also pointed out the problems they are facing in getting their maps approved by the Pauri District Development Authority. It is interesting to point out here that, as per the 74th Amendment of the Constitution, it should be the municipal bodies which must be given the task of town planning and map approvals and there is no role for quasi legal bodies such as MDDA in this respect. However, the successive state governments have ignored this basic requirement and in order to have direct control over the town planning and approval of maps, they have established development authorities in total violation of the spirit of the 74th amendment to the constitution of India, which seeks to give greater autonomy and source of income to the municipal bodies. As the municipal bodies are elected bodies, it is in tune with the democratic norms, too, to grant them this function. The governments however ignore this mandate of the constitution so that they can manipulate the rules on case to case basis.