Enter Connaught Place and you feel as if the area has been bombed — debris is scattered on pathways, roads lie dug up and heavy construction machinery is strewn everywhere.
The restoration of Connaught Place is a story of missed deadlines and escalating costs. It began in 2005 when every development agency such as the DDA, MCD, PWD etc, was asked to submit their ideas for development of the Capital in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG).
Touted as a showcase project, the Connaught Place restoration project involved restoring the market to its original grandeur when it was inaugurated in 1935.
Work began in May 2009 with an eye on the CWG. Since then, several deadlines have been set and missed by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC).
The agency had promised to repair the crumbling façade, re-lay roads, drainage lines and parkings. But once the work began, the civic agency seemed to realise that it had bitten off more than it could chew.
And post CWG, sources say the contractors entrusted with the task are dragging their feet. Many left work mid-way after the Games got over.
Another big concern was the quality of work being done. Before the work actually began, C block of Connaught Place had been restored as a pilot project.
Post-restoration, none of the façades seem to match it in terms of quality.
There have been several factors that have contributed to the circle of mess that Connaught Place seems to have become.
Work left mid-way
Sources said a major issue is that the work has not been handled by one contractor, but several smaller ones.
The NDMC hired Engineers India Limited (EIL), a public-sector undertaking, as the Project Management Consultant in November 2005.
The EIL then brought in several sub-contractors for the job. The project was divided into nearly 11 packages.
Many of these contractors later left work mid-way, especially after the Games. Precious time was lost in finding their replacements.
The continuous delays and alleged poor contract management has caused the project cost to go up from Rs. 76 crore in 2005 to Rs. 671 crore in 2007.
However, NDMC officials claim that a number of components had to be added to the project that contributed to this rise.
Contractors also faced shortage of labour on many occasions, especially during crop harvesting season.
Since most labourers come to Delhi from several villages, they go back home during this time of the year. Moreover, festivals too led to this crunch.
As the project was supposed to meet the CWG deadline, all permissions such as that for traffic, road-digging and from police were provided to the civic agency on a priority basis.
However, since the project has dragged on for many years, getting permissions from the same agencies has now become a difficult task.
Yet Another deadline
Instead of cracking the whip, the NDMC has only pushed the deadline further. The civic agency is claiming it will complete the work this December.
But the pace of the work belies that promise.
“They have promised to meet the December deadline but we have our doubts. A lot of work still needs to be done. Finishing of the façade itself is going to take months,” said Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders’ Association, one of the main stakeholders of the project.
‘We wait for hrs for a customer to walk in’
Oriental fruits mart, E-block, Connaught Place
Before Khan Market became a hotspot for imported canned food, all buyers used to flock to the Oriental Fruits Mart at E-block’s Connaught Place.
Since the past three years, however, the number of shoppers have dropped considerably, leading to huge losses. The owners blame the restoration work on in CP.
“Sales have dropped drastically. Sometimes we wait for hours on end for a single customer to walk in. The story holds true for many shopkeepers of Connaught Place. Some shops have seen no customers for the past one week,” says Mahender Pal, who has been running the shop for the past 40 years.
Pal says that since his shop sells foodstuff, people will come out to buy groceries only when the roads are in good condition and there is parking space outside the shop.
“No one is going to walk a long way in the dust and jump ditches just to buy fruits and other foodstuff,” he adds.
At present, the front of his shop has been dug up to lay cables and has not been filled in for the past four months.
The only consolation so far is that his shop was not flooded during the recent rains.
“When one agency finishes digging, another agency starts off. It has caused a lot of inconvenience, not to forget losses,” Pal added.
Oldest toy shop faces losses never seen before.
Ram chander & sons, D-block, Connaught Place
The oldest toy shop in Connaught Place should be brimming with children, hollering for the goodies on display. Instead, Ram Chander and Sons wears a vacant look.
Its owners say that in the past four years, sales and the number of customers have declined by a volume that was never seen since the shop was set up in 1936.
The road outside has been dug up, drains have been cut off and iron barriers put up, all in the name of redevelopment of CP.
There is no parking facility. Telephone and electricity connections sometimes go dead without warning.
After a constant decline in the number of customers walking into the shop, the shop owner Satish Sundra decided to extend the business hours three years ago.
He even decided to keep the shop open on Sundays, when most of Connaught Place remains shut.
But to no avail. “We have been experiencing a loss of 20-30 per cent in sales,” said Amit, Satish Sundra’s son.
To add to monetary losses, many employees have suffered injuries after slipping on wet mud during monsoons.
Recently, the shop lost a lot of merchandise when water entered the shop after a bout of heavy rain.
Amit says the water did not find an outlet as the drains have been choked.