Are the constructions of gates and barriers appropriate and legal in various colonies in Delhi? The answer is, that depends. Depends on what? Depends on whether these colonies are private estates with private streets and other amenities that are owned and maintained privately. If they are, then no one can find fault with the construction of gates and barriers. Non-residents of the colony in these cases can have no complaints with these gates, albeit residents may still have their complaints in view of potential delays in delivery of emergency services.
If the streets are public streets that rest with the municipal corporation (MCD) and are maintained and managed by the municipal corporation resources, then, construction of gates and barriers on these “public streets” are illegal and they are criminal offence under Criminal Procedure Code. This may sound quite simple and logical at the outset, but unfortunately, colony residents, Resident Welfare Associations (RWA), Local Police and the SHO, and even Deputy Commissioner of MCD and Deputy Commissioner of Police of the District are some times confused. The confusion is evident from the officials asking the wrong questions and even stating that if residents have objection, then it is illegal.
The gates and barriers are illegal not because it may adversely affect the delivery of emergency services, which of course will have a bearing on construction of gates and barriers, but fundamentally, the issue is whether the streets are owned and vested by the corporation and the public funds and resources are utilized for their maintenance. If so, even if all the residents are for construction of gates and barriers for providing themselves with security, the construction of gates and barriers on public streets are illegal, because any citizen of the city/town, irrespective of whether he/she is a resident there, a non-resident, an owner of a commercial establishment, a businessman distributing his wares in the colony either to the shops or to the residents directly has a right to use the public streets owned and maintained by the corporation.
Going one step further, any community living adjacent to the colony or even away from the colony but economically dependant on the colony, has a right to make a living using the colony as an economic resource. Their easy access to the “public streets” within the colony cannot be denied. Cities and communities are built on the basis of this economic inter dependencies. This right is NOT at the pleasure of the RWA but undiluted in spite of their displeasure.
The process to be adopted if a “public street” is to be closed / restricted rests with the Corporation. The commissioner with the permission of the corporation has to go through a process of giving a month’s notice inviting objections etc. from those adversely affected. This right and responsibility cannot be abdicated to the RWAs. Local police obviously has no such rights and thus cannot pass on a right, which they themselves do not have.
Recent case of Sarita Vihar C pocket RWA closing the gates and barriers in collusion with the local SHO does NOT make it legal. That the Police and MCD authorities did not take action on time can only be dismissed as organizational lethargy and insensitivity and does not make it legal. “Offences of obstruction in relation to any street which is a public street, shall be punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees or with both” as per the relevant Act.
Now, the next question is, is it prudent to construct gates and barriers that are likely to delay delivery of emergency services to the colony residents? Answer, obviously is an emphatic NO, considering the various rulings of courts and cities all across the world.
The circumstances under which the gates & barriers were put up in C Block Sarita Vihar on the midnight of 30 November 2001 so that the residents could not prevent their erection goes against the spirit of the MCD Act in which even the authorized persons can not do so with out notice of one month and hearing of objections from those affected.
Further, a DDA colony like Sarita Vihar, the residents have already paid the cost of development of these streets and hence denying the use of street once developed goes against the very spirit of consumer protection, the law of the land protects.
Apart from all the above, blocking a 50 ft direct road entry and exit and forcing the traffic through 16 feet service lanes can only be conceived by selfish residents who cannot even conceal the hidden agenda to save the RWA office holders themselves from heavy traffic in front of their own houses. Gates & barriers tend to privatize public streets, giving undue power to one person (or persons) who lives on a street while depriving the rest of the neighborhood a voice. They divide neighbors and neighborhoods. Even resident homes are blocked from their own garages! They cause resident drivers to lose time, increase driving distance, pollution and cost. It confuses visitors and loses time, increase driving distance, pollution and cost. Service vehicles, commercial vehicles and school buses are prevented easy access to the points requiring their service. Old, disabled and sick are denied easy access to facilities inside the colony and easy entry and exit. This has led to favoritism, capriciousness, unfounded claims of community support and maneuvers to elude and obscure dissenting voices.
All this for false
Security (there is no access control) and reduced traffic in front of the
houses of RWA officials! The
purported claim is that we must be willing and prepared to give up our freedoms
to preserve our security. The authoritarian side of our society revels in the
opportunities to protect us from our enemies, real and imagined. Despite all
the high blown rhetoric, the real reason some residents support gates, barriers
and humps is to divert traffic to somebody else's street or neighborhood.
The author of this article has started an initiative with the commissioning of the web site dedicated to the cause of Save Our Streets (SOS) Delhi. The detailed cause and resources to fight for the cause are available at http://sosdelhi.tripod.com/
Author is a retired Army Officer and a practicing software engineer/architect and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.