South Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar, which has the most popular go-to market for budget shoppers, was actually among the 10 colonies planned soon after Independence to accommodate government employees. The project was first conceived in 1950 as part of the first Five Year Plan (FYP). The construction of the flats and market area was taken up in 1955 by the Central Public Work Department. Over the years, more shops were added to the market. These shops were then allotted to refugees who had landed in Delhi from Pakistan after Partition.
AK Jain, former commissioner (planning) of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) said that Lodhi Colony, a neighbourhood comprising government quarters, existed much before Sarojini Nagar. However, as the demand for dwelling units increased, agricultural land from Gujjars in Pilanji Village was acquired for a new project. “Nearly 10,000 flats were available, but there was a demand of around one lakh more units to accommodate government employees. Hence, the government prepared a mega plan to create colonies in the southern part of the city. Mehr Chand Khanna, then union minister of rehabilitation, supervised its development. He looked after the construction of the colony and the allocation of shops to migrants from Pakistan. Since he was a Punjabi, he soon became popular with the refugees.”
This was second time when land was acquired from Pilanji Village. Earlier, residents of fringe villages like Pilanji and Aliganj were resettled in Kotla Mubrakpur area around 1914-1921 for the formation of New Delhi. In the next two decades, no massive change took place. However, the 50s and 60s brought sweeping changes as the Centre planed Vinay Nagar, which later came to be known as Sarojini Nagar.
MAKING OF A MICROCOSM
The project was first conceived in 1950 as part of the first Five Year Plan
- The construction of Sarojini Nagar was started in 1955 by the Central government for its employees while the shops were allotted to refugees from Pakistan.
- Parts of Pilanji village were acquired to build housing units for govt employees. Over the years, the village has become commercialised and several tall buildings have come up. "Our land was acquired in 1911 and the compensation was deposited in the Bank of Calcutta. Villagers were illiterate and did not have resources to go there to claim compensation. Hence, the original residents had to spend their days in penury as there was no work after land acquisition. While Sarojini Nagar was planned and colonies were constructed on our land, the villagers were left to suffer. We struggled due to lack of civic amenities, infrastructure and poor sanitation. Electricity and water supply are some of the other issues," said Dheer Singh, Pilanji village head.
- The colony is divided into blocks from A to M and has 3,539 flats.
- There are government-run dispensaries and hospitals like Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS are at a distance of 2.6km and 3.5km respectively.
- INA Metro station is at 3km while AIIMS station is 3.5km away.
- The under construction Sarojini Nagar Metro station is part of the Pink Line in Phase 3.
The South Square Mall was developed by the NDMC under the public private partnership (PPP) model. It has an automated multilevel car parking facility with a total of 10 levels, including basement which is used as the Parking Bay. On the ground and first floors, there are commercial units. The rest of the floors have space for more than 800 cars. It was opened in November 2011 to solve the parking problem in the market. "It is India’s first fully automated car parking service which is open from 7am to 1am, allowing shoppers to park their cars at a minimal amount of `10/hour with 24-hour security system," said Raj Pal Singh Yadav, manager.
Security has been a huge concern here. The blasts that rocked the Capital in October 2005, still send shivers down the spines of the people here. Every year, the shopkeepers association organises a hawan at the blast site in the memory of the victims. The names of the victims have been engraved on a marble stone. Traders alleged that the scenario of the security provisions is worse than before. There are no proper arrangements, no barricades. Pritam Singh, who works at one of the stores here, said, "Customers not only from across the country, but across the world come here. And security remains a big issue."
Developed for middle-level staff, the area was named ‘Vinay’ which means ‘in a position of submission’. However, in the 70s, it was considered a term signifying the class divide prevalent during the British period. As a result, it was renamed after Sarojini Naidu for her contribution to the freedom struggle. Similarly, Shaan Nagar and Maan Nagar, colonies meant for senior officers, were renamed as Rabindra Nagar and Bharti Nagar respectively.
Sarojini Nagar was initially divided into three districts — East, West, and South. At that time, neighbouring Kidwai Nagar was known as East Vinay Nagar which extended till Dilli Haat. Later, Vinay Nagar was divided into Sarojini Nagar, Kidwai Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Laxmi Bai Nagar and Nauroji Nagar.
The colony is now divided into blocks, alphabetically, from A to M. There are 3,539 flats here, with makeshift shops outside every block selling snacks and other such items. All the blocks have clean and well maintained parks as well as designated parking lots. Its construction was based on neighbourhood design principle with a school, provisions for market and open areas like parks and space for parking, too.
Mukesh Sharma, who was born and brought up in I block, recalled how things have changed. “In our time people were united. We used to celebrate all festivals with all our neighbours. But now the scenario is different, people don’t even bother about who lives next door. Earlier, even if there was a marriage function, everybody was involved in everything,” he said.
Earlier, the Sarojini Nagar market had small shops, Sharma said. The market’s face has totally changed. “In those days, people used to sleep on the terrace in summer. But one can’t even think of doing this now due to various reasons, crime being one of them,” he added.
While the residential area is calm and peaceful, the market on the contrary is crowded and noisy. Almost 90% of the shops here are still held by original allottees. Yashpal Lakhina, who has been in the market for 65 years, said, “All the shops are of the same size, that is, around 70m in length, all the refugees used to stay at the nearby railway station by the time they were allotted these shops.”
The market is divided into three parts — Central Market, Babu Market and Sabzi market. There are 200 shops in the central market and 110 shops in the elevated Babu Market. Babu Market was created to cater to the needs of the occupants of the colony. This market has a number of garment stores, eateries, salons and tea shacks.
The market is one of city’s biggest and most crowded markets. It’s especially popular for its export surplus stuff available at throwaway prices. From stylish clothes to fake designer bags to fashionable jewellery, Sarojini Nagar never disappoints.
Besides, there are various street food vendors and kulfi vendors famous since 1990s. The famous Khandani Pakore Wala in Nauroji Nagar was earlier in Sarojini Nagar market. Muchhal Halwai ki Dukan, named after his owner, who had a big moustache, is one of the oldest eateries here. After his demise, his children run the business. In evenings, people in large number can be seen standing in queues in front of this shop to buy hot samosas and jalebi. The far end of Sarojini Nagar has a sabzi market that sells fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices.
Though the residential area is clean with broad avenues and manicured parks, the market lacks basic amenities. It has become congested over the years. Parking is in a huge mess and weekends are especially bad as lanes surrounding remain jam-packed as motorists use surface parking despite the fact it has an automated multilevel car parking facility in the vicinity. Shopkeepers say that more benches are required for customers to sit and rest. Maintenance of public toilets and streetlights are other issues.
The Master Plan for the market was reviewed in 1984 and the changes suggested should have been implemented, but nothing has been done so far, shopkeepers said. Promod Sharma, president of Sarojini Nagar Market Shopkeepers Association, said, “There has been no development since 2008. There are more than 2,000 unidentified hawkers in the market. Vendors need to be verified and others should be removed. We’ve been complaining to the authorities regularly, but no measures have been taken yet. ”