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A writ petition to allow a disabled man to keep his hawker’s license

Date : 01/04/2008

Sumer Singh Mann v. Municipal Corporation Delhi

Sumer Singh Mann v. Municipal Corporation Delhi is a case illustrating the blatant disregard that many authorities show for judicial orders, especially those which protect the rights of the forgotten members of society.

Lying in a dismal ground floor room in a narrow house off one of Old Delhi’s cramped alleyways, 59-year-old Sumer Singh Mann has reason to feel down. The rheumatoid arthritis that has shrunk his hands into gnarled fists is creeping progressively through his body, leaving him bedridden and depressed.

But it is not only his physical condition that is troubling him. It is also his rejection by a society that largely disdains the disabled and poor. Mr Singh, a widower, is cared for by a young man who cooks his food, and a friendly neighbour – a well wisher he calls her – who stops by from time to time. He has few other visitors. He has been abandoned by his family members and he has been fighting his battle alone with no one to look after him.

When his disability became acute, ten years back, Sumer Singh realised he must augment his meagre retirement pension, the better to prepare for his increasing incapacity and dependent old age. After much thought, he decided to request a hawker’s licence from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) so that he could sell fruit and other goods from a kiosk and barrow.

Over the next four years, every attempt he made to get the license met with failure. Fearing he would die before his turn came up, he approached the Human Rights Law Network in 2005, whose lawyers pleaded his case on compassionate grounds in the High Court. After another long wait, the Court directed the MCD to grant Mr Singh Mann a temporary license to hawk at a road junction near his home. The MCD also gave permission for someone to run the business on his behalf, since he was now bedridden.

But the local police had other ideas. Citing a multitude of petty reasons, they put obstacles in his path. They claimed that his papers were not in order, that they had not been informed by the MCD, and always had excuses. With HRLN’s help, Mr Singh filed contempt petitions against the MCD, who then gave written confirmation to the police. Far from resolving the impasse, things got even worse, and the MCD itself confiscated his barrow last December, alleging it was parked in the wrong place. It has not yet been returned.

This case represents the vast chasm between judicial orders and actual justice. This is just one of many cases where authorities blatantly disregard the commands of the judiciary. Too, often, marginalized members of society like Mr. Singh are the victims. He is being deprived of not only his livelihood, but an opportunity to reconnect with the world that has shut him out.

In a status report dated 9.10.2007, the MCD stated that the petitioner had been given his license and location. Taking notice of the status report and subsequent claims of police harrassment, the High Court on 1.4.2008 issued an order confirming the petitioner’s right to hawk and directing the Police Commissioner to take all steps to ensure that he is no longer harassed by the police.”

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