A visit to Sarojini Nagar Market in the next few days may leave shoppers disappointed as traders here have threatened to go on an indefinite strike. The bone of contention is the unrestrained encroachment in the market. The shop owners had, after a recent drive, removed extensions from their shops and the market association now wants the authorities to act against vendors encroaching the market area. The association has threatened that the market may remain shut for some time if the authorities fail to take action. Reports of possible shut down of Delhi’s favourite shopping destination had set the social media abuzz.
For six months now, traders have been complaining to the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) about rampant encroachment by unauthorised hawkers who crowd the narrow market lanes. They say that the unchecked movement of such vendors makes the market congested and vulnerable. In 2005, about 43 people were killed and 28 were injured in a bomb blast that rocked the market on the eve of Diwali. Besides, Ashok Randhawa, president of Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Association said the vendors are also eating into their business.
Justifying their decision to strike, traders claimed that NDMC had joined hands with them to form a ‘self-regulation’ plan to decongest the market. According to the plan, the civic body had asked the traders to remove their shop extensions, after which NDMC would have taken action against the vendors. After several meetings with NDMC officials, the traders who legally own shops decided to clear extensions in front of their shops. The shop owners who had extended their counters up to eight feet agreed to retreat to at least two feet. In return, they demanded clearance of illegal tehbazari (vendors).
However, Randhawa said the council did not keep its word. As a result, illegal tehbazari and movement of touts remained unchecked. He said, “We will now speak to NDMC officials on August 10 to reach a consensus, otherwise we will go on a strike.”
The NDMC conducted a drive here three weeks ago and cleared more than 70% encroachments. However, shopkeepers claim most of them are back.
A senior NDMC official said, “We had removed encroachers a couple of weeks ago but several of them returned with a stay order from the court. Hence we could not initiate action again. The other problem we face is that as touts keep roaming in the market, it is difficult to track them. The town vending committee will complete a survey in the next 15 days, after which a decision will be made. A plan for redevelopment of the market has also been submitted by the traders association which is being examined by the NDMC.”
Pramod Sharma, president of Sarojini Nagar Mini Market Association, said the authorities have allowed about 400 vendors to work in the market; whereas, at present more than 500 vendors operate here. Sharma said the traders had extended their shops to compete with illegal vendors who sold the same goods at lesser price. “Shopkeepers are bearing the brunt of the council’s inaction. We pay rent and taxes but the vendors make higher profits. Our business has suffered a lot in the past few years,” he said.
Randhawa said, “All the shopkeepers of Sarojini Nagar, including those of Babu Market, main market and mini market, now do their business only within the space that has been earmarked by NDMC. Most of us have agreed to the terms and others will follow. But, as the illegal vendors continue business, it is getting difficult for us to convince shopkeepers to remove their extensions.”
Rajasekhar YVVJ, director, NDMC enforcement wing, said, “We support the idea of self-regulation as it will bring transparency. This will help pedestrians to move freely and provide a fair shopping experience. We are committed to remove squatters.”
Sharma said their unchecked movement is also a security threat. “There is no rescue plan in the market in case of an emergency. There is no way for fire services or ambulances to enter as all pathways are blocked by vendors. With around 60 embassies located in the neighbourhood, the area is always on high alert, yet nothing has been done,” he said.
Nupur Prasad, additional DCP (South) said, “It is the NDMC’s duty to remove encroachments. We will provide adequate security when NDMC raises a demand.”
There are four markets in Sarojini Nagar — Sarojini Nagar main market (200 shops), vegetable market (65 shops), Babu market (120 shops) and Mini market (120 shops). Randhawa said that over the years footfall in the market has increased but the agencies are apparently not bothered about security measures.
He said, “For years, we have been asking NDMC to remove squatters. We decided to discipline ourselves but we also expect the civic body to look into our demands of making the area encroachment-free and initiate redevelopment plans here.”