Chandni Chowk: Where old city seeks modern amenities | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

Chandni Chowk: Where old city seeks modern amenities

May 22, 2024 03:11 PM IST

The Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha seat comprises 10 assembly segments including Model Town, Tri Nagar, Shakur Basti, Shalimar Bagh and Adarsh Nagar

Chandni Chowk, Walled City, Shahjahanabad, Delhi-6, old Delhi — take your pick. Known by an array of different names, this historical area forms the core of the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. This is where the web of overhead electrical wires meets the deepest Delhi Metro station. There are Mughal mansions, slum clusters and flats, along with industrial areas and the largest wholesale market clusters in India.

A top view of the Chandni Chowk constituency. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)
A top view of the Chandni Chowk constituency. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

The problems of this constituency are as myriad as its demographical constitution. From traders’ concerns, tax norms and failure of pedestrianisation in market areas to parking, broken roads, water supply and stray animals in residential areas, voters have many demands, little of which, they say, have been met in the decades by different governments.

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“The problem of water here is acute. In peak summer, we don’t even get two hours of water daily, while on some days, we keep waiting but there is no supply and we get no information about it. Only those who have old submersible pumps are better off, but many of those have also gone dry now. In some lanes, it is difficult for water tankers to enter. So, we have to carry water from the main road,” Mohammad Aziz, a resident of Gali Qasim Jan in Ballimaran, said.

This is not a concern only in the older parts, but extends to the entire constituency, including Shalimar Bagh, Model Town and Adarsh Nagar. The water shortage is so acute in some parts that the BJP candidate, in his manifesto, promised to ensure at least four hours of water supply every day by 2025.

“The water supply in our area is erratic and often, sewer water mixes with the regular supply. This is a persistent problem for years and we have not been able to get this sorted despite raising it with leaders. The other big problem is that of stray cows and dogs. Apart from being a hygiene issue, there are massive traffic jams because of stray animals, especially around the Premwadi Pul area,” Sanchit Arora, whose family has been living in Shalimar Bagh for two generations, said.

Arora said that most of the sanitation, as well as traffic concerns, of Shalimar Bagh could be handled if there was a road built over the Munak Canal, a promise that he says he has been hearing since he was a child.

Another residential area in the Chandni Chowk constituency, Model Town, needs attention to broken roads, maintenance of parks and efforts to beautify the popular Naini Lake that is central to the area.

“This lake is surrounded by homes and is central to the maintenance of the entire area. The Union government has approved funds for this project, but it has been held up because the executing agency, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, does not have a standing committee. We hope that the new MP will be able to get this work done,” Harsh Batra, general secretary of Lake Area Residents Association, said.

Kuntesh Kumari, a homemaker who lives in Pitampura, said that civic amenities in the area have not been maintained in a long time. “Roads are broken, causing waterlogging at the first hint of rain. Drains get clogged and the DDA market area in Pitampura is in a shambles. Basic sanitation of the roads is also not maintained. Leaders should not wait for elections to address these basic needs,” she said.

The problems in the slums of Shakur Basti are more basic than civic needs, say residents.

Hamida Begum, who lives in Shakur Basti, said, “There is always a threat of a demolition drive, wherein we will be asked to vacate. Notices keep coming to us like we are squatters though all of us have voter ID cards.”

The Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency comprises 10 assembly segments, of which Model Town, Tri Nagar, Shakur Basti, Shalimar Bagh and Adarsh Nagar mainly are residential areas. Chandni Chowk is among the smallest Lok Sabha constituency in the country and one of the smallest in Delhi, in terms of population, with over 1.6 million voters. BJP’s Harsh Vardhan won the seat with 52.9% votes in 2019.

The problems of the old city markets, which are part of the Chandni Chowk, Matia Mahal, Ballimaran, Wazirpur and Sadar Bazaar assembly segments, are different. In the main Chandni Chowk market, there are 64 katras (clusters of houses and shops) with over 30,000 small and big cloth shops.

“The main market has been pedestrianised and no vehicles are allowed, but most of the traders in the market are elderly. There should at least be pick and drop allowed for traders to reach their shops, even if parking is not allowed. Also, these shops need loading and unloading of material to be allowed at different times through the day,” said Mukesh Sachdeva, of the Delhi Hindustani Mercantile Association.

He said that overhead wiring in Chandni Chowk has been a concern for several years. “For decades, we have been asking agencies to move these wires underground. Every few days, there is a fire, gutting several shops and causing huge losses because even fire tenders are unable to reach the narrow bye-lanes of these areas,” Sachdeva said.

Traders concerns were not limited to civic issues.

Yogesh Singhal, chairman of all bullion and jewellers association in Kucha Mahajani, said: “There is a big network issue in all of Chandni Chowk. While the world is doing online transactions, there is hardly internet connectivity in this huge wholesale market and customers suffer. Even for us, once we enter our shops, we are cut off from the world. All traders have also been demanding ‘one nation-one tax’ norms so that we are free from the hassle of filing multiple taxes to different authorities and can focus on running our business. We hope that the new MP will raise this important issue.”

Traders said that the lack of sanitation, basic amenities in the markets, network issues and safety concerns due to overhead wiring are not just driving away customers but also the future generation of traders from taking their own business forward.

“The youth in our families will rather do lower-paying jobs outside than sit in their own shops and take forward their family business. Most of the traders here are senior citizens because the younger lot have decided to stay out of the cramped markets. If I want my wife or daughter to manage the shop for a day, there is no clean urinal that they can use. This is a threat to the existence of many businesses now. We also don’t easily get good employees to manage the shops,” Rakesh Kumar Yadav, a third-generation trader who deals in packaging material, said.

The contest this time is a fight between the old and the new in Chandni Chowk. The Congress has fielded 79-year-old Jai Prakash Aggarwal, a three-time MP from the area and the oldest candidate among all contestants across seven seats in Delhi. He will face off against Bhartiya Janata Party’s Praveen Khandelwal, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections for the first time but is considered an active voice of the traders.

Khandelwal has released a detailed manifesto with promises to resolve multiple issues, from traffic to water supply, clean drains, constructing flyovers, build health infrastructure and conserve heritage structures.

“Chandni Chowk is not just an electoral area for me, it is my birthplace, my professional workplace, and my social and political ground. Today, whatever I am, it’s because of the love and support I received from the residents and businesses of Chandni Chowk. I will ensure that all my promises are upheld within the promised time frames,” Khandelwal said.

Aggarwal, on the other hand, said that he is a local who has been with the people of the constituency through their good and bad times. “To work for the people, you need to feel their pain. BJP does not have pain in their heart for the people who suffer. In the last five years, not a single issue of Delhi has been raised in the Parliament by any of the seven MPs. I have been the most active parliamentarian in the past, fighting against my own government to raise the issues of my area. I will continue to do that even now,” said Aggarwal.

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