The High Court of Delhi in India has declared that unauthorised construction represents a ‘menace’ which is ‘eating into our city’.
The statement was contained in a judgment which dismissed a batch of petitions filed by 44 shop owners. The shop owners had been seeking to overturn a decision by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to seal their shops in the Diamond Mall after it was found that the mall had been constructed illegally and that buildings which formed part of the mall were being used for unauthorised purposes.
“The present is a clear case where the entire construction of Diamond Mall by illegally amalgamating three distinct plots is unauthorised” the court said.
“As such, the petitioners cannot be granted any relief whatsoever in the equity jurisdiction of this Court. The menace of unauthorised construction is eating into our city and cannot be tolerated”.
Diamond Mall was created from the amalgamation of three buildings on separate plots of land. Initially, separate plans for construction of three story buildings on each individual plot had been duly sanctioned in 2004. Aside from the ground floor of one of the buildings, however, no part of any of the buildings were sanctioned for commercial purposes, with residential use only being allowed. Neither was there any mention in any of the permits about buildings being subsequently amalgamated.
Subsequently, MCD says the three buildings were amalgamated into what is now Diamond Mall without any of the owners or contractors having sought permission for this to happen. Furthermore, even though only one floor of one building was ever authorised for commercial use, the mall now houses no fewer than ninety retail outlets throughout the combined buildings. Moreover, in the intervening period subsequent to the initial granting of permits but prior to the amalgamation, MCD says that on several occasions, inspections had uncovered ‘unauthorised construction’ in each building. This took the form of ‘deviations/excess coverage’ on floors for which permits had been granted and, in the case of one of the buildings, construction of an additional floor above the three floors which the permit had allowed.
The shop owners (mainly jewelry retailers) claim they purchased their individual shops after all this took place, and that being neither the building owners nor the developers, they themselves had not committed any wrongdoing. They should not be denied access to their shops, they argued, simply because of the wrongdoings of others prior to their purchase of their outlets.
The court disagreed. The judgment said the retailers had a duty of care to satisfy themselves of the legality of the title they were seeking to acquire when they purchased their outlets. The court also said that it could not merely turn a blind eye to the fact that illegal conduct had occurred simply because it was parties other than the shop owners who committed the offence.
“The fact remains that the claim of the petitioners is steeped in illegality” the court said.
“The said illegality cannot be ignored and eyes cannot be shut thereto merely for the reason of the persons seeking the relief from the Court being themselves not the perpetrators of the illegality”.