Some hiccups but Chandni Chowk warms up to idea of being a vehicle-free zone

Updated on Jun 28, 2021 05:56 PM IST

As per a gazette notification issued by the Delhi transport department on June 14, motorised vehicles are no longer allowed to ply on the main Chandni Chowk Road from Red Fort to Fatehpuri Mosque from 9am to 9pm.

When HT visited the revamped stretch on Saturday, motorised vehicles such as scooters and cars were plying during the daytime(HT file photo)
When HT visited the revamped stretch on Saturday, motorised vehicles such as scooters and cars were plying during the daytime(HT file photo)
BySadia Akhtar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Newly-installed steel gates plastered with posters announcing a ban on entry of motorised vehicles between 9am to 9pm and a fine of 20,000 have come up at the entrance of the revamped Chandni Chowk, opposite the Red Fort. With the 1.3 km stretch between Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid becoming a no-go zone for motorised vehicles, queues of rickshaw pullers line up the entrance and keep an eye out for potential customers entering the market.

Pappu, 22, who has been ferrying passengers in the area for the past six years, said there has been some improvement in earnings since motorised vehicles were barred on the stretch. “Since cars are no longer allowed during the day, more people are hiring cycle rickshaws. The restrictions need to be implemented more strictly. Makeshift e-rickshaws need to be banned too. They clog traffic and eat into our share of customers,” said Pappu, who goes by his first name.

Prem Kumar, 24, another rickshaw puller, said while more people were reaching out to rickshaws since the ban on vehicles, it was crucial to ensure compliance. “Cars and scooters also keep entering whenever they get the chance. E-rickshaws also need to be banned if the focus is on pedestrianisation,” said Kumar.

When HT visited the revamped stretch on Saturday, motorised vehicles such as scooters and cars were plying during the daytime. One of the two security guards on duty told HT that while they were only allowing vehicles with exemptions to pass through, some people got aggressive when they were stopped. “Many visitors including those who come for worship here, also ask us to open the gates. Sometimes they get aggressive but we try to stop them or comply with requests,” said the guard, who did not wish to named.

Despite repeated attempts, senior traffic police officers did not comment on the allegations.

As per a gazette notification issued by the Delhi transport department on June 14, motorised vehicles are no longer allowed to ply on the main Chandni Chowk Road from Red Fort to Fatehpuri Mosque from 9am to 9pm. Fire tenders, ambulance, hearse vans, and other emergency vehicles along with vehicles deployed for enforcement and maintenance services, however, have been kept out of the purview of restrictions.

The 1.3-km stretch has been turned into a pedestrian-only zone as part of the Chandni Chowk redevelopment project being spearheaded by the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC), the nodal agency for the redevelopment of the heritage market. Work on various aspects of the first phase of the project is expected to be completed by the end of July.

SRDC officials said the installation of street lights on the stretch along with the control room for CCTV monitoring is expected to be completed by June 30. Work on all toilets is also underway and is expected to be completed by July 31.

Shoppers and residents also welcomed the area becoming a vehicle-free zone.

Mohd Sadir, 38, who has a shoe shop in Ballimaran, said he was happy with the pedestrianisation and hoped that more areas will be covered soon. “We welcome this step but the area needs to be beautified beyond this stretch,” said Sadir, who lives in Ballimaran. He said while there were some challenges in transporting goods, people will get used to the timings gradually. “There is always some resistance to new initiatives. Cycle rickshaws are always there for ferrying both goods and passengers,” said Sadir.

Deepa Mehra, a resident of Kucha Ghasi Ram, said while the main stretch has been completed, work needed to be amped up. “The pedestrianisation plan is good since vehicles would clog all the roads earlier, leaving little to no space for walking. Cars should be completely banned in the area but there is a need to move beyond the mains stretch into the galis. The core problems remain. They should have worked on the inner streets first,” said Mehra.

While most people have welcomed restrictions on motorised vehicles, some residents along with custodians of places of worship have sought some relaxations on account of inconvenience being faced by worshippers. Officials from the Gurudwara Sis Gang Sahib said the elderly and disabled worshippers were facing challenges due to a ban on motorised vehicles.

“Two-wheelers are also not being allowed to come inside. If this continues, many people will not be able to visit us the way they way did earlier. Senior citizens are also getting dissuaded since vehicles are no longer being allowed,” said a visitor, who did not wish to be named.

Maulana Mohammad Furquan Qasmi, imam, Sunehri Masjid, Fountain Chowk, said while the curbs on entry of motorised vehicles were needed “for a place like Chandni Chowk”, limited passes for emergency use could be given out to various places of worship. “We welcome the beautification but traffic police should hold consultations and issue passes for emergency use to those who come to worship here. Every time, we step out for some emergency work or transfer of goods, we are threatened with fines. If elderly or disabled individuals visit us, we can’t ask them to go back and return after 9 pm. Those of us who live here should not be inconvenienced,” said Qasmi.

He added that it was crucial to listen to local residents before implementing new measures, a sentiment that was echoed by multiple residents of the area.

Anil Pershad, 77, who belongs to the famous Chunnamal family, said challenges were mounting for local residents in the area. “There is a lot of traffic chaos since work is still underway. Unless specific instructions are given to security guards, residents will continue to face troubles while going in and out. There is no arrangement in place for catering to health emergencies either. It will help if local residents like us can be given a pass which can be used in emergencies,” said Pershad, adding that residents were not being made stakeholders in the revamp initiative.

“If Chandni Chowk is being beautified, it should be done in such a manner that people who left the area are motivated to come back. People don’t want to come back since nothing is being done for the local residents. We can’t park our own cars here,” said Pershad.

Nitin Panigrahi, deputy general manager, SRDC, said exemptions have already been provided to the elderly and emergency vehicles including ambulance and hearse vans. He added that plans for the introduction of e-carts for the elderly were also being considered. “Since the restrictions on vehicles, the environment has improved in terms of safety for elderly people. We may also introduce e-carts for the elderly,” said Panigrahi.

He added that it was the responsibility of enforcement authorities to ensure compliance with the restrictions of vehicular movement. “SRDC doesn’t have enforcement authority. Traffic police are spreading awareness and signages and barriers have been installed though,” said Panigrahi.

Sanjay Bhargava, president Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, said that business had improved in the area and things were expected to improve further as things fall into place. “Business has only grown with pedestrianisation. Once work on CCTV is completed and enforcement becomes stricter, things will improve further,” said Bhargava.

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