New Delhi, Apr 4 (PTI) The Supreme Court today came down heavily on the Centre saying it was changing the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 at “the drop of a hat” to protect those who have committed illegalities by making unauthorised constructions.

The apex court made it clear that commercial establishments like restaurants and big showrooms cannot continue in residential areas in violation of the law as the authorities cannot put the life of citizens of Delhi in danger.

A bench of justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also told Additional Solicitor General A N S Nadkarni, who was appearing for the Centre, that the groundwater level in Delhi has depleted to such an extent that if there was no rainfall in the national capital even for a year, there would be “chaos for water”.

When Nadkarni urged the bench that the apex court should monitor the issue and ask the authorities to perform their duties in a time-bound manner, Justice Lokur observed, “then there will be ‘dharnas’ outside my house”.

Nadkarni said that protests and ‘dharnas’ by the traders against the ongoing sealing drive was not a solution to the issue and though there was a right to protest, it cannot be done in a way holding the city to ransom.

“Neither the government nor the courts should be cowed down by this (protests),” he said prompting Justice Lokur to say, “do not worry, we will not be cowed down”.

The bench also referred to earlier orders passed by the apex court in this matter and said that it was observed that wealth rather than health of the citizens was getting priority.

When the court asked as to what the government was doing about commercial establishments operating from residential areas in violation of law, the Centre referred to the Master Plan of Delhi-2021 and said “they will have to go”.

“You are changing the Master Plan of Delhi at the drop of a hat. Why? Because you want to protect these people,” the bench said, adding, “people of Delhi are not relevant for you”.

“These kind of showrooms and restaurants cannot continue in residential areas unless you want to put citizens of Delhi in danger of fire,” the bench observed while referring to the lack of fire safety clearances for such eateries.

The Centre, however, said that there cannot be “miscarriage of mercy” even in the master plan.

The court, while clarifying that it was not going to touch slums, ‘jhuggi jhopri’ (JJ) clusters and small essential commodities shops, said that the government has protected the farmhouses in Delhi.

“Let me tell you that groundwater level in Delhi has depleted to such an extent that if for one year, there is no rainfall in Delhi, there will be a chaos for water,” Justice Lokur said.

The bench observed that if the government and concerned authorities have the will to implement the regulations which are already there, the issue could be dealt with.

When the counsel appearing for the court-appointed monitoring committee raised the issue of police protection to the panel during sealing drives, the Centre said that adequate security have been provided to them for carrying out the work.

Nadkarni told the court that he would place before it a road map and suggestions to deal with the situation and would discuss the issue with all the stake holders.

Meanwhile, the counsel appearing for Delhi government said that around one-third population of Delhi was residing in unauthorised colonies and they cannot be asked to suddenly shift to nearby places like Hapur or Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.

“These colonies, which have come up in the past, cannot be shunted out,” the lawyer said, adding, “one-third of Delhi’s population lives in unauthorised colonies. It is a harsh reality”.

Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, who was representing the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), told the court that there was no conflict of interest between the Centre and DDA and they would discuss the issue with all the agencies.

The top court is hearing arguments on the validity of the Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Act, 2006 and subsequent legislations which protects unauthorised construction from being sealed.

The apex court had earlier ordered restoration of its 2006 monitoring committee to identify and seal such offending structures.

The monitoring committee, comprising K J Rao, former advisor to the Election Commissioner, Bhure Lal, chairman, EPCA and Major General (Retd) Som Jhingan, was set up in March 24, 2006, by the court.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.