Numerous court orders, drives against encroachment and illegal construction and years of planning have failed to turn Chandni Chowk’s fortunes around.
On the contrary, the mess at the historic market designed by Mughal princess Jahanara in the middle of 17th century has increased manifold over the years.
Shopkeepers have added multi-storeyed structures to decades-old colonnade. Pavements are either squatted upon by the hawkers or taken over by religious structures, compelling pedestrians to walk on the roads. Illegal parking on both sides of the carriageway and unlicenced cycle-rickshaws obstruct traffic movement. At times, the entire market place comes to a standstill. Thousands of shoppers and tourists visit the market every day, which has nearly 600 small and big shops on the main road.
The redevelopment of the Chandni Chowk was started in 2014 but couldn’t progress due to the lack of coordination among stakeholders. “Chandni Chowk has converted into a ‘pedestrian-unfriendly zone’. Significant chunks of the pavements have been taken over by the religious structures. They have completely barricaded the space meant for walkers. Remaining space is occupied by the hawkers,” said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.
”Recently, several roadside structures were demolished to make way for underground cable laying work. However, the debris is still lying on the roads along with heaps of garbage. This chaos is leading to crimes such as pick-pocketing and harassment of women in the market,” Bhargava said.
Despite a ban by the National Green Tribunal, loading and unloading of goods is carried out during the day time triggering severe traffic congestion. Delivery vans, carriers, and hand-carts can be seen parked haphazardly throughout the day along the pavement. “The issue has been brought to the notice of the police but no action was taken ever,” said a trader in the area.
Plans for one-way traffic movement or “rickshaw-free zone” to decongest the area remain only in papers.
In 2011, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Delhi high court, seeking action against 147 alleged illegal properties.But in the past five years, nothing has changed on the ground.
“Builder mafia, police and civic body officials have a nexus. No emergency service will reach here when disaster strikes. There are several court orders but the implementation is zero. Police and the municipal corporation are unwilling to act. Earlier, I could see Lal Qila and Jama Masjid from my terrace. Several unauthorised multi-storeyed buildings have come up around my residence, which have blocked the view,” said Subhash Chandra Agrawal, an RTI activist who lives in the Dariba area.
Remove constructions in Chandni Chowk within three weeks, HC tells agencies
The Delhi high court has ordered all authorities responsible to remove encroachments and illegal religious structures from Chandni Chowk within three weeks.
The Mughal-era bazar is located at the centre of the city of Shahjahanabad, one of Delhi’s heritage hubs. However, due to unplanned development and commercialisation, several heritage structures that include grand havelis are lying in ruins.
The court expressed its displeasure over the slow pace at which the Chandni Chowk redevelopment plan is being implemented. It ordered all agencies to coordinate efforts.
The court asked Nitin Panigrahi, deputy general manager (project and administration) of Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) to ensure that debris and garbage is removed. Panigrahi is also the nodal officer appointed by the court to see that agencies such as the North Delhi Municipal Corporation Delhi Police and Public Works Department (PWD) work in tandem to revive the historic market.
Justice S Muralidhar and justice Vibha Bakhru, in their order on Tuesday, directed the north Delhi civic body to prepare a time table in a week and take action against illegal constructions in the next two weeks.
“It is emphasised that this (removal of garbage and debris) ought not to be a one-time exercise but must be undertaken continuously with frequent monitoring,” the court said. The orders came after the court was shown photographs of debris and garbage dumped on Chandni Chowk roads.
The court also ordered the superintending engineer concerned to repair immediately the non-motorised lanes on the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Marg in front of Old Delhi Railway Station. The court directed the engineer to submit a status report in the next hearing on April 30.
The court ordered all stakeholders to fix “realistic time lines, responsibilities and discharge them without delay”. The court said If Panigrahi faces any difficulty, he might approach the court for further directions.