Winter months in Delhi mean sunbathed weekends at the Purana Quila circuit with family and friends. It begins with a visit to the zoo in the morning, followed by a tour of the fort and a boat ride, concluding with the light and sound show. Only, none of this is happening this season.
The Delhi Zoo has been closed for the last 45 days since the outbreak of bird flu and boating has been stopped for five months, pumping of fresh water into the lake has been discontinued and the park stands desolate. The entire zone is bereft of more than 10,000 visitors every day.
“I proposed to my wife here in 2011 while we were taking a boat ride,” says Rajesh Sharma, who often drops in here to check if the circuit has opened. “We visit once every two months, but now the guards say they do not know when it will open,” he adds.
Like Rajesh and his wife Shikha, for many couples a boat ride or a stroll along the lake is an integral part of life. However, the gates to the lake have been closed for the longest period ever as Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corporation (DTTDC), that runs the boating club, is unable to renew its agreement with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI had referred the matter to the ministry of culture which has now asked the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) to run the facility. Caught bureaucracy, boating — the key attraction of the place — stands suspended.
The Purana Quila lake, which has been the essence of the capital attracting 4,000 visitors daily on an average, also featured in films like Tanu Weds Manu Returns that had Kangna Ranaut and R Madhavan pedaling away on a boat. The lake, however, is dying a slow death. Its water is gradually drying up and the unkempt park is turning unsafe attracting anti-social elements. The lake gets a little water from Yanuma while the rest used to be pumped in through a boring well which is not being used anymore.
“Boating used to earn us Rs 6 lakh per month on an average and during the peak season it would go up to Rs 9 lakh. Our monthly electricity bill to maintain the facility comes to around Rs 45,000 and with 70 boats, we have assets worth Rs 2 crore lying unused,” a DTTDC official said.
SP Singh, MD and CEO, DTTDC said the company’s five-year long MoU expired on March 31 this year. “The ASI allowed us to run the boating club till August 10. Earlier, the agreement used to get renewed on time. During the annual trade fair held at Pragati Maidan nearby and New Years, the daily footfall increases to about 7000, but this time that did not happen,” he said.
The impact is also visible on the sound and light show held every evening at Purana Qila. “There has been a drop of more than 25% in our revenue from the show ever since these sites were closed down,” said AK Gupta, DGM (E&M), ITDC. An official from the ASI deputed at the fort said sale of tickets for the monument had dipped on several occasions, but refused to give further details.