New Delhi: The state of affairs, be it Covid or non-Covid, is ”frightening” as people are ”flowing like a river” which could lead to stampede and death of hundreds, the Delhi High Court said on Friday while taking note of overcrowding in Sarojini Nagar market which had witnessed a bomb blast in the past.
The court said whether there is Covid or not, people have to remain alert and made it clear that if there is any death because of COVID-19 infection or stampede in the Sarojini Nagar market, then the officials of the authorities concerned, NDMC and Delhi Police, will be personally held liable for it.
The court also issued contempt notice against officials of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) for not complying with its earlier orders on the removal of encroachment from the market, including illegal vendors and their goods.
It also asked the Delhi Police and Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) to work out a movement plan for the public in the market and asked the NDMC and other authorities to ensure there is no overcrowding.
It further directed the DDMA to make a visit to the market forthwith and assess the situation in view of the prevailing situation of the pandemic.
”These pictures show that at night time all goods are lying there and covered with blue sheets. The state of affairs is such that, Covid or non-Covid, we see is frightening. There could be a stampede; there could be hundreds of deaths. If there is a bomb blast in that area, even if there is a single bomber just think how many people are going to die because of the blast and stampede,” a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said.
It said Sarojini Nagar market has already witnessed bomb blasts in the past and God forbid if any such incident occurs, what will happen.
After seeing various photos and videos of the crowded market, the bench said if the authorities are not allowing then how these encroachments are taking place and added, ”don’t tell us that this is stage-managed. Hundreds of people are pushing each other and hundreds of people are flowing like a river.”
When the counsel for NDMC said due to the Christmas festival, there are 70,000 to 80,000 people in the market daily and they need to control the headcount and urged the court to pass an order for removal of encroachment, the bench said it had already directed the authorities not to allow anybody to encroach upon, be it shopkeepers or others.
”If some shopkeeper is encroaching upon public land, do you need our order to remove him? You will not remove him on your own? That is the mandate of the law. Do we have to give direction that if somebody is encroaching upon public land, the authorities should remove him… we fail to understand what is happening,” an annoyed Justice Singh said and added, ”you are saying that to perform your functions you need an order from the court.” To this, the NDMC counsel said they have been regularly removing encroachment and also illegal vendors but they again return and that they are also issuing challans and performing their duties.
The bench said it cannot shut its eyes by seeing the situation and asked the authorities to daily take steps for removing encroachments.
”We are not saying they (shopkeepers) are holy cows and are not encroaching upon. You have to take action against everyone encroaching upon. If you think you can brazenly violate the high court’s orders, we will show you what will happen… we are not going to allow violation of our orders,” it said.
The bench said the authorities have ample power under the statute to take action against the violators and they also have the backing of court orders, still, there is no improvement in the situation on the ground.
It also said directed that whatever goods are seized from vendors and shopkeepers, who are found vending and selling goods illegally, should not be released to them without court’s orders.
Additional standing counsel Naushad Ahmad Khan, representing the Delhi Police, contended that the market’s boundary wall height is very low, which poses a security risk as people jump and enter the market and there are many entries and exits to the market which should be regulated.
The court asked the NDMC to do proper fencing of the market’s wall so that people do not jump and cross it to enter the area.
The high court was hearing a plea relating to illegal encroachments in Sarojini Nagar market and the presence of unauthorized vendors and squatters there.