Ahead of the May 12 polls in the national capital, both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress have promised to "end" the drive undertaken by the BJP-led municipal corporations on the directions of a Supreme Court-appointed committee since December 2017.
With a large number of traders bearing the brunt of the sealing drive in several markets of Delhi, political parties are going all out to make it a key poll plank even though a section of business persons feel that it is a “non-issue”. Ahead of the May 12 polls in the national capital, both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress have promised to “end” the drive undertaken by the BJP-led municipal corporations on the directions of a Supreme Court-appointed committee since December 2017. However, city-based automobile parts dealer Manoj Garg, who suffered during the drive, is not quite enthused about the poll promises.
“Yes, I faced problems during the drive,” he says, as he shows a portion of the patched-up roof of his corner shop in Kashmiri Gate, which was knocked out during a sealing drive in his neighbourhood. “But, for me, sealing is not a poll issue, national security is a larger issue, and I will vote on the basis of that,” he said, adding that many traders in the wholesale automobile market “share his sentiments”.
In addition to several rounds of protests, traders’ bodies including the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) have been very vocal about the issue, demanding promulgation of an ordinance to stop sealing in the city. CAIT’s Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal agreed that lakhs of traders have felt the “pain of sealing”, but he claimed that several of them are willing to put “national security” over “sealing issue” in this election.
“We have been demanding an ordinance to stop sealing, from the Centre but in vain so far. From other parties too, we have little hope, so we are considering other important issues before voting, like national security,” he said.
Former president of Paper Merchants Association, Delhi said the sealing drive “really broke the back of traders”, and frustration is bound to be there as it is a matter of livelihood. “But, there are other factors at play in the 2019 elections, so, I do not know, how much of an electoral issue it will remain on the polling day,” he said, adding that the trader community is a “sizeable vote bank” in Delhi and every party “seeks to woo it”.
However, several traders of Amar Colony in south Delhi and Karol Bagh in north Delhi are still feeling frustrated about the issue and alleged that no party has ever tried to “resolve” the problem but only use it for “political gains”. Amar Colony’s Old Double Storey Marker had faced major action during the sealing drive conducted by the SDMC on the instructions of the monitoring committee and on March 8 last year, as many as 350 shops were sealed in a single day.
“Sealing has taken away our livelihood, but is there any party which is serious about the issue. They all make big promises during elections, but there is no lasting solution for us,” said a south Delhi-based trader, who did not wish to be named. “Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his interaction with traders at Talkatora stadium, did not mention about sealing,” he added.
Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari and the three mayors of the BJP-led corporations had also met Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri, seeking a solution. The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP and the Congress, however, have been blaming the Centre and the three corporations of the city for the “sealing mess”.
Kejriwal, whose party has fielded trader leader Brijesh Goel as its candidate from New Delhi seat, promised that if his party wins the election and secures full statehood for Delhi, the problem of sealing would be solved immediately. Congress leader and party’s New Delhi candidate Ajay Maken too assured to solve the issue within 30 days of winning the polls.
Addressing traders in Karol Bagh on Sunday, Maken had promised to halt the sealing drive within one month of coming to power. He also alleged that the sealing of shops and commercial establishments reflected the anti-trader and anti-business mindset of the Narendra Modi government.
However, Maken’s rival on the New Delhi seat and BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi alleged that the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 2021, prepared by the urban development ministry during his tenure as the minister has several loopholes. “The Congress government did a shoddy job. The MPD has several issues, as it was approved hurriedly. Maken was the urban development minister. He is to be blamed for the mess,” Lekhi claimed.
“In MPD, rules for DDA’s Local Shopping Centre and provisions for other markets are different. Several roads were not declared commercial,” she added. Khandelwal opined that as the MPD 2021 would end in another two years, the next government must consult traders before drafting the MPD 2041.