Connaught Place shop owners struggle to get permission for basic repairs
Traders from Connaught Place are demanding relaxation in norms for permission to carry out basic repair and maintenance work in their shops and restaurants in the heritage market, claiming that it sometimes takes over three months to get the approval from the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) for the same.
As the buildings in Connaught Place market, which was constructed in 1933, are notified as Grade II heritage structures, NDMC officials said HCC’s permission is mandatory even for basic maintenance and internal repairs, including painting the premises and relaying floor or wall tiles.
“To do the basic repairs such as painting, re-flooring, wood works or changing the wiring or fix the damage due to seepage or leakage, we have to take permission from NDMC and HCC. The process is cumbersome and takes months to get the approval... Why can’t the process be simpler and faster?” said Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association (NDTA).The NDTA, which represents traders from Connaught Place market, has been raising the issue for the last two years.
The market association said that HCC’s November 9, 2020, direction to NDMC to not forward applications where there is a dispute regarding ownership of the building or between the landlord and tenant -- “to avoid HCC getting involved in litigation” -- has made it virtually impossible to carry out necessary repairs.
Manpreet Singh, owner of Zen restaurant in Connaught Place’s B-block, pointed out that a large number of restaurants and shops in the heritage market are run by tenants.
Singh, who is also the treasurer of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), said, “There are over 50 restaurants operating in Connaught Place. It is difficult for tenants to get permission from landlords for repair and maintenance. It is a heritage building and requires frequent repair and maintenance. The norms for it should be relaxed.”
Last year, the NDTA wrote to the HCC, calling its decision “contrary to the rules and byelaws”. “If the landlord doesn’t carry out repairs and the tenant is also not allowed to do the same, the property and its condition will deteriorate,” said Bhargava.
Though HCC officials did not respond to requests seeking comment, the minutes of an HCC meeting held on January 11 this year puts the onus on NDMC: “In view of the issues raised by the NDTA and as ownership related issue falls within the jurisdiction of the concerned local body i.e. NDMC in this case, they may adopt an appropriate system to prevent involvement of the HCC in ownership related disputes.”
NDTA members said that since then the issue has been in a limbo.
“The Prime Minister talks about ease of doing business, but traders feel harassed due to stringent norms even for basic repairs and maintenance of their establishment,” said Bhargava.
Traders said that in some cases, like whitewashing or painting of the premises, the owners end up spending more money on the process of getting an approval than on the actual repair or maintenance work.
“One of the reasons why I have not renovated my restaurant is the lengthy process involved in obtaining permission. The process even involves roping in an architect to upload the documents and drawing. We end up spending more money than the actual repair cost,” said Singh.
When contacted, a senior NDMC official aware of the development said, “In some cases, the process takes time as there are deficiencies in the documents uploaded by the traders. According to HCC norms, a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the landlord is a must. We are just following HCC’s decision to not send applications where there is a dispute over ownership or NOC is not there.”
Author, historian and heritage expert Swapna Liddle said that the colonial-era business district needs a proper maintenance plan and guidelines on the type of repairs allowed. “This is a huge block of buildings which are similar in characteristics. A plan or comprehensive guidelines on the list of things which are allowed should be put in place with respect to Connaught Place. For important structures like Connaught Place, a management plan should be prepared like we have it for Rashtrapati Bhavan. So that if any work has to be done within the scope of the management plan, people should be allowed to do it.”