Some lovely writing in this 1939 account of the challenges of late colonial planning enforcement:
Building cases receive greater and more constant attention than almost any others as the Building Sub-Committee meets every week and the Building portion of the agenda of Ordinary Meetings is seldom postponed and sometimes even an Ordinary Meeting is specially held for the disposal of building cases alone. Nevertheless it is in this department of the Municipal Committee that efforts at improvements are almost like struggling after a mirage.
In the last annual report I referred with special reference to cases of unauthorised constructions, to the contempt with which Municipal Byelaws are treated by the citizens of Delhi. I invited attention to the dangerous impression, amounting to conviction, in the minds of the people that the only purpose of democracy is to find opportunity and protection for dishonest and unscrupulous law breakers and that influence and wire pulling can help one to violate all the commandments, legal and moral, at any rate so far as the Delhi Municipal Corporation is concerned and get away with it. I regret to have to refer again to that impression which has hardly diminished. The only thing which has prevented matters from reaching a state of absolute chaos is the very wise and farsighted convention that in regard to building cases the lead of the Vice-President in the Chair is always accepted and the decisions arrived at accordingly. This understanding quite definitely places the responsibility of decision upon one individual,—the Vice President in the Chair, and there is thus comparatively less changes of vicious lobbying and unscrupulous wire-pulling. But something is more needed. Either something must be done to instil a health respect for law among citizens or some means must be devised to eliminate the chances of dishonest persons avoiding the ordinary course of law and defeating justice.
It is a distressingly common practice among a certain kind of citizens to start their building operations without waiting for the sanction of the Committee and in certain cases even without applying for any permission. Or, in the alternative, they attempt to circumvent the building byelaws be ingenious devices, peculiar to each case, in order to have a building which will fetch them rent or afford personal satisfaction at the cost of human health. To defeat the object of “set-back” the entire building is proposed to be rebuilt excepting the wall abutting on the narrow lane on which the building is situated. The wall is then plastered and in some cases actually rebuilt at convenient hours when no member of the Municipal staff is expected to be there. This is one of the commonest devices. Every Bye-law is thus subjected to tests which were never contemplated and which obviously no law can normally withstand.
This state of affairs exists because the would-be law breaker is provided with so many loopholes at every stage. He feels that he can conveniently break the law and escape the consequences by simply bringing into play the influence of his well placed friends and supporters. Even if a notice is served for the removal of an unauthorised structure, the person concerned ignores it till the expiry of the first notice and when the final 6 hours notice is served upon him, he comes forward with an appeal which must take some time for disposal. When the demolition gang at last reaches the spot, he runs to his influential friends and makes them also run about in order to get the demolition postponed. He files amended plans and uses every other possible means of delaying the demolition. When the amended plans reach the Committee stage, the applicant is found loitering and lobbying in the verandahs of the Town Hall and generally making a nuisance of himself to all concerned. The number of such persons is often so large that it is impossible to work in the adjoining office owing to the disturbance that goes on in the verandah. When even all such and other attempts to stop demolition fail the undaunted calmly goes to the civil court and obtains an injunction which affords him temporary relief and an opportunity for fresh attempts to prepare other amended plans and have them passed by the Committee.
Keeping in mind all these facts one can only marvel that it was possible during the year under report to demolish as many as 496 unauthorised constructions. Surely some means will have to be devised for the improvement of the present state of affairs which tend to effect human health and sanitation and thereby jeopardise the welfare of the city.
Report of the Administration of Delhi Municipality for the years 1938-39