Wanted: A humane approach - Sa-Dhan

Wanted: A humane approach
The Hindu Business Line, Dec. 6, 2006
Unauthorised constructions and encroachments have been with us all the time.
The administrative machinery rouses itself fitfully into action, whenever it suits
its interests, and goes to sleep thereafter, allowing (in more malodorous senses
than one) more of them to sprout, until it gets into a mood for the next binge. Of
late, the higher judiciary has been stern and unrelenting in applying intense
pressure on public authorities to undertake a sustained drive against violations of
building laws, zonal master plans and illegal occupation of public land.
The Supreme Court has been taking upon itself the onerous task of monitoring
for almost a year the course of implementation of its sealing orders on
commercial establishments in the residential areas of Delhi. It has come down
heavily on the Union Ministry of Urban Development for enacting a special law in
mid-2006 providing for a year-long moratorium on punitive action in order to
give itself time to evolve balanced and well-considered policies governing such
"unauthorised development" (as the Act describes the constructions).
Likewise, it has just last month dismissed the Tamil Nadu Government's appeal
against a Madras High Court order quashing amendment to the Tamil Nadu Town
and Country Planning (TNTCP) Act, 1971, facilitating regularisation of
unauthorised constructions in Chennai. The High Court, on its part, has
appointed a Monitoring Committee to ensure compliance with its orders for
demolition of illegal constructions.
Human angle
On a strict view of the omissions and commissions by government agencies and
builders, the stand of the judiciary cannot be faulted. Of course, one can only
hope that concern with matters of administrative supervision of this nature is not
at the cost of disposal of huge backlog of regular cases.
But the malady has a human and socio-economic angle that transcends the mere
mechanistic and legalistic aspects. It is an honoured legacy of all systems of
jurisprudence down the ages that justice under the law should be tempered with
wisdom and compassion. It is not humane to look at unauthorised constructions
and encroachments purely as transgressions deserving of the utmost
ruthlessness, devastating thousands of families.
Those cosily settled in the comforts of their homes should learn to spare a
thought to the heart-rending plight of the poor and the down-trodden who are
thrown on the streets with their meagre belongings.
Similarly, enforcement of the law should not degenerate into a mindless exercise
depriving the livelihoods of huge numbers of those supporting themselves to the
best of their ability. Hence, these sections should not be uprooted unless
alternative sites are ready for their immediate rehabilitation.
Understanding needed
As regards illegal constructions, unless they hinder some manifest public purpose
like, say, construction of a highway or an industrial estate, or throw town
planning into a disarray, they should be taken as additions to physical assets
satisfying the insistent demand for office or residential space.
Since, however, such additions have been in violation of the law, it would be
quite in order to levy on those culpable a penalty equivalent to double or treble
the cost of the constructions. In all these respects, the approach of the Tamil
Nadu Government had been both humane and practical and well worth
In sum, all involved — the executive, legislative and the judiciary — should deal
with this human problem, stemming from exploding population and the
governments' inability to cope with economic and social demands, in a spirit of