These days, if you happen to be in Connaught Place early in the morning, you are likely to end up wondering whether you missed the war that reduced the market to a shambles. Dug-up roads, debris scattered on the pathways, buildings with their facades torn off or supported by scaffolding—this is CP in 2010. The only hint that it’s actually work in progress is the heavy construction machinery lying everywhere. The sight is enough to deter people from venturing further into the market.
What a war would have done in one day, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) began as a systematic project in May 2009; the aim was to bring restore CP’s lost glory.
In theory and on paper, the plan was workable. However, the execution is proving to be a Herculean task. With the civic agency taking up more than it could handle, CP has become a ‘no entry zone’ minus the board.
The civic agency now admits that it didn’t realize this until it was too late. “When we took on the restoration project we had not bargained for the large extent of damage. We have had to rebuild walls and pillars, too,” said Anand Tewari, NDMC spokesperson.
The New Delhi Traders’ Association, (NDTA) suffering huge losses for the past 14 months, has written to the NDMC chairman. Their demand: Whatever work is to be taken up after the Games be done so after consulting them.
“We don’t want a repeat of what is happening and that’s why we are asking the NDMC to take us in confidence before restarting work. We have incurred huge losses and if it continues, CP’s traders will be in a very bad shape,” says Atul Bhargava.
“Lack of communication lines, air conditioning and credit/debit card payment facilities has affected business gravely. Our customers have shifted to malls,” says Karandeep Singh, who manages an eatery in the outer circle.
With the NDMC trying to meet the Games deadline, eyebrows were being raised on the quality of work, a charge refuted by the NDMC.
“CP was constructed over a decade’s time and the construction methodology varied as did the material. While some architects used lime mortar and plaster, others opted for cement mortar and plaster. CP’s restoration should have been based on a detailed material investigation. In many cases, the repair is not compatible with the original. The durability of the restoration action, hence, becomes questionable in terms of the behaviour of the original material with the ones being used now. CP was constructed with a strong urban design scheme that is well recorded in terms of drawings and documents available. Unfortunately, the restoration work doesn’t achieve the precision and intent of the original schemes in terms of the shape. Skilled labour and professional input could have ensured that the quality of work matched that of the original,” said Smita Datta Makhija, a conservation architect.
“The quality of construction will not be compromised. The conservation has been taken up keeping in mind that CP is a heritage structure and we have conservation engineers on board,” says Anand Tewari, NDMC spokesperson.
Since January this year, with the civic agency starting work on the subways on the outer circle, Delhiites have been facing huge traffic jams. Moved by the chaos, the Lt Governor had directed the NDMC, Delhi Police and NDTA to come up with a new traffic plan. Later on, the Delhi Traffic police granted permission to construct only four subways.
However, of the four, NDMC started work on only three—two at Panchkuian Road and one on BKS Marg. With no time left, these subways have been covered with loose earth. A road will be build over them. “Work on the subways was delayed as we encountered a big sewer running across the Outer Circle. It was not mentioned in the initial drawing and we were not aware of its existence,” said Tiwari.
‘I’ve had to shut shop and operate from home’
Kiran Singh Infotech,
Anurag Singh owns and runs a software development company Kiran Singh Infotech in the Middle Circle of Connaught Place.
For him, communication is of utmost importance. However, for the last two months, his business hasn’t had any connectivity—phone or internet. With no option left, he had to ask all 15 members of his staff to operate from home.
“The internet and phone companies cannot provide regular services here as the Middle Circle is completely dug up. I had no option but to work from home,” says Singh.
For the last two months, Singh hasn’t had a single customer and as such his business has been very slow.
“I have had to use personal finances to pay the salaries for my staff. There is a 99 per cent slowdown in business. I have given Blackberrys to all my employees, but that isn’t very cost efficient or cost effective,” he adds.
As a stop-gap arrangement, Singh has taken a membership of Park Hotel to hold meetings and is contemplating moving his business to Gurgaon till the mess settles.
“Customers don’t want to come to the Middle Circle anymore. I don’t blame them. Till last week, we had to get down into a pit to reach our office. Why would anyone want to come here?” says Singh.
For this woman, it’s a matter of survival at CP
She’s been selling Gujarati handicraft items on the streets of Connaught Place for the last 22 years. But Usha Gangadia’s business has never been so slow as it is now. “There is nothing else we know, nothing that we’ve learned other than this and nowhere else can we go. We have to stay here even though our sales have dropped by 35 per cent,” she says.
When she learns that the work will go on for a year after the Games, she turns deathly pale. “What will we do? We will starve to death,” she says.
Gangadia earned a minimum of Rs 1,500 per day before the digging began. Today, she barely manages Rs 500. With the way the family finances are drying up, her 15-year-old son has had to drop out of regular school to pursue his education from the National Open School.
“He will now sit for his exams through the open school. We don’t have enough money to send him to a private school,” she says.
But it is not just Gangadia’s family that is suffering. “More than 25 people are suffering because of the slowdown, right from the family who dyes the cloth for us to the one who embroiders it. It is a very big loss for all,” she added.
The Chinese economy goes down a deep pit
The Chinese economy is a mess. Not the country, the popular restaurant in Middle Circle. Why? Because it’s deserted. The employees wait and hope that maybe some loyal customer will dare to cross the daunting stretch of dug-up roads outside the joint. The day passes in a futile wait.
“We have lost more than 70 per cent of our business. This is a very hard time for us,” says Sukhbindar Singh, assistant manager of the restaurant.
Singh blames the lack of planning and organization for the mess that Connaught Place is in today.
“The plans should have been drawn out earlier and all the work should not have been taken up simultaneously. The project is good but the planning has been poor,” he said.
The digging of a service tunnel in the Middle Circle has cost The Chinese dearly. “Earlier, we used to get 80 guests per day on an average. Today, the number has gone down drastically. We had only 12 guests yesterday,” Singh says as he looks at the empty tables in the restaurant.
More than 90 per cent of the guests at The Chinese are regulars. “We just don’t get any more walk-in guests anymore,” Singh said. But it’s not just the guests who have stopped coming; even delivery orders have dried up.
But the restaurant hopes that business will pick up before the Games. “We have been assured that the Middle Circle will be restored by the beginning of September,” Singh said.
‘NDMC didn’t learn anything, failed the traders’
Mohanlal & Sons, hindustan times, news
Mohan Aggarwal has just one word to describe CP’s current situation: Unfortunate. Owner of Mohanlal and Sons that sells apparel in the Inner Circle, Aggarwal says, “I am one of the worst affected in terms of business as it is not seasonal. Our shop has been here since 1881, but never have we incurred such huge losses.”
He says the civic agencies don’t seem to have learnt anything from the Metro experience. “The Metro construction took four years, from 2001 to 2005. Digging was carried out at that time as well, but in a proper manner. Walkways were created, alternate routes decided and proper signages put up. But NDMC has failed to do any of these,” he says.
Aggarwal’s losses? A whopping 60 per cent.
“There is no planning, no expertise and the traders are suffering. There is not a single shop in CP that has not lost business,” said Aggarwal. Like everyone else in the market, Aggarwal has also had problems with connectivity and electricity.
“Had it not been for my shop, I would never want to come here so I don’t blame the customer,” he added.