Appalled at the violation of laws and safety measures by the restaurants, pubs,bars and cafes in Hauz Khas village and how civic agencies had turned a blind eye to all of it, the Delhi High Court termed the posh hangout and party address of South Delhi "a ticking time-bomb".
A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal was disquieted by how the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi Police, Delhi Fire Services etc., had allowed all the commercialisation despite the same leading to public nuisance and health hazard.
It noted disturbingly that licences were granted to restaurants etc., by civic bodies without checking the ground realities.
The bench was hearing a batch of petitions wherein it noted that the streets in the posh village were not wide enough for a fire tender to move easily in case of an emergency and only five restaurants have fire clearance.
The sewage system, the bench noted, was also not robust to take the load from the kitchen and bathrooms of various restaurants and pubs etc.
The petitions alleged that the owners of these commercial properties were illegally running restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes, etc., in Hauz Khas village, in gross violation of the provisions of the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, and Building Bye-laws, the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021, the Delhi Fire Safety Act, 2007, the Delhi Police Act, 1978.
They are also accused of being in contravention of statutory provisions with regard to licensing of commercial activity, imperilling public safety, adversely impacting the environment and infringing upon the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Delhi inter alia under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Some of the restaurants are running in prohibited areas like monuments etc, the petitions alleged.
Rights Of Restaurant Owners Vs That Of Public
The bench observed that these writ petitions entail the examination of the rights of the restaurant owners against the rights of the members of the public.
"We may note that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation has filed a report dated 21.08.2017, submitting that there are 63 restaurants/eating houses/ health trades in the Hauz Khas Village. In the same affidavit, the SDMC notes violations in 49 of those establishments. The Delhi Police points out that only 46 licences stand issued by it. It is also obvious from the above that only 5 restaurants have fire clearance," the bench noted.
"In case there is any emergency or need for a medical emergency to reach the buildings inside Hauz Khas village, it would be impossible to do so.
"This position is also highlighted from the affidavit of the Deputy Commissioner of Police pointing out that during a mock-drill for a terrorist attack, the NSG commandos could not reach the destination within the village," the bench said, expressing serious concern while pulling up civic agencies for granting licences without checking the ground realities.
"The above reports of the Delhi Police, Delhi Fire Service, SDMC and the Delhi Jal Board illustrate that the Hauz Khas village is a ticking time bomb without essential civic and Emergency services," the bench remarked.
Justice Mittal was critical of how the repeated queries regarding quantum of solid waste and sewage generated by these restaurants etc., evoked no response from either the authorities or the restaurant owners even as the same is directly related to pollution in river Yamuna.
"It appears from the material place that no comprehensive solid waste management and sewage disposal evaluation has even entered the minds of the concerned experts or the municipal authorities while permitting such activities or granting licence," it said.
The bench directed Delhi Jal Board to inspect each premises in Hauz Khas village with regard to water supply (including whether it is commercial / residential) as well as borewells, which may have been dug in these properties within three days.
The bench summed several questions of public importance which warranted examination. These are as under:
(i) Whether notional or technical compliance with statutory provisions would be sufficient for issuance of a license or is it essential for license issuing authorities to take a broader view taking into consideration the rights of the public atlarge and its impact on the environment?
(ii) Whether issuance of a license creates an absolute right in the licensee to carry on the licensed activity?
(iii) Is it not incumbent upon a municipal corporation of Police, Fire Services Authorities, the Jal Board, Sewage Disposal Authority, Pollution Control Authority and other public authorities while granting the licenses, to consider the effect thereof on the public as well as the area at large, especially regarding the environmental impact and issues of congestion, crowding and public safety?
(iv) Would declaration of permissibility of commercial activity at any place in the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021, ipso facto enable or permit a property owner to convert an existing residential premises into a commercial property merely on payment of conversion charges, irrespective of the nature of its construction without satisfying the requirements of Building Bye-laws for such commercial usage?
(v) Whether the receipt of an online application for sanction or permission for construction/modification or commercial usage, obviates/ exempts the public authorities from discharge of its statutory duties and responsibilities as well as the public law obligation to conduct the physical inspections thereof and to satisfy itself that the same is in consonance with public interest?
(vi) Whether any person has an absolute right to use his or her property in a manner, which may have the authorization of law, but be opposed to the interest of public at large?
(viii) While allowing the commercial activity in a given area, whether it is not incumbent on the authorities to take into consideration the limited resources in terms of emergency services, policing, sewerage disposal systems etc as well as increase noise/ air/ water pollution?
(ix) Whether there is no public duty on the owner of a commercial enterprise to ensure that his/her actions do not adversely impact or endanger the life and limb of others; that the activities do not lead to degradation of the environment or tantamount to misuse /abuse of public/ civic services and amenities?