One of the biggest markets in Asia, which caters to more than a lakh people every day, constantly lives in the fear of a terrorist attack.
For Karol Bagh, which has experienced two blasts, other problems such as lack of parking and crumbling infrastructure pales into insignificance when compared to security concerns.
“At any given time, at least a lakh people are present in the market. However, police deployment and security is nowhere close to the minimum needed to secure the area. Irregular patrolling and a handful of CCTVs is all that we have to show for safety, it seems everything has been left to the mercy of god,” said Surender Kumar Oberoi, president of Ghaffar market association.
“In 2008, someone had left explosives wrapped in a bag in a crowded corner. Nothing is stopping people from doing so again,” said Oberoi.
Karol Bagh fell prey to two terrorist attacks the past two decades.
The last one was in September 2008, when a series of bomb blasts shook the city. Previously, two low-intensity explosions had shaken Karol Bagh in 1996 near the popular Roshan Di Kulfi.
Shopkeepers say that apart from security, illegal encroachment -- which is indirectly related to safety -- is a major concern. “Illegal encroachments are a major issue. The extended counters and hawkers leave no place for pedestrians. Further, the lack of upkeep by the authorities has led to the buildings falling apart,” said Harish Chitkar, a shopkeeper in the MCD market.
“The corporation has given no water, no electricity and no elevators although multiple taxes have been imposed on us. Despite numerous complaints and letters, the issues are yet to be resolved,” Chitkara said.
For a daily footfall of over a lakh, Karol Bagh has a parking capacity of less than a thousand. “The contractors have turned roads into parking lots, worsening the congestion. Further, cars with registration plates of other states are made to pay Rs 100 to Rs 200 per hour,” said Dheeraj Jha, a visitor.
Shoppers say it seems the authorities have no plan to develop markets. “Internationally wholesale markets are developed as tourist hubs, not merely because they provide necessary items to the people but also give an insight into the country’s tradition,” said Ankita Singh, a local resident.
Senior civic leaders cited the oft-repeated lack of funds as an excuse. “On multiple occasions we have chalked out proposals to redevelop the market but the entire area has to be taken into account. The entire Karol Bagh has been turned into a commercial hub and it needs to be handled likewise. We need funds to plan and implement a redevelopment strategy for such a large area,” said Ravinder Gupta, Karol Bagh councillor and North Delhi Mayor.