Is it curtains for Delhi’s Daryaganj book market?
For the last two Sundays, the municipal authorities have not allowed the vendors to sell books at the Sunday market at Daryaganj. The sellers now fear that they may not be allowed to return at all.
The municipal officials have told the vendors that this is a part of the ongoing beautification drive in the run up to the three-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit to be held in Delhi, starting January 24.
But not all vendors may be allowed to come back once the ASEAN Summit is over. Ruchika Katyal, deputy commissioner, City-Sadar Paharganj Zone of North Municipal Corporation said in the future, the agency will only allow authorised booksellers on ‘permitted stretches’.
“Residents and traders have been complaining about illegal occupation on footpaths. Their main concern was that the hawkers also take over portions of roads, which creates hindrance in traffic and pedestrian movement. Several illegal vendors had come up in the recent years,” she said.
More than 250 book sellers put up their stalls on the pavement along Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road starting from Daryaganj-Faiz Bazar crossing to Delite Cinema every Sunday. Started in 1964, this market is known for rare book titles (course books, biographies, memoirs, quiz books, coffee table books, encyclopedias, magazines, and even entrance exam books), which are available here at throwaway prices.
However, unlike earlier, several vendors selling knick-knack, clothes, shoes, and restaurant cutlery squat parallel to the books market now, which results in traffic snarls and chaos in the area, said another municipal official.
Qamar Sayeed, president, Sunday Books Bazaar Welfare Association said there is no certainty about the future of the market. “Confusion prevailed as senior police and corporation officials tell us that they are not letting us set up the market because of the ASEAN summit. At the same time, junior staff say that the market may not be allowed even after January 26,” he said.
“There are 271 members registered with our association, who pay requisite fee to the corporation for tehbazaari. It was police and corporation officials who permit illegal hawker to occupy space in the market,” he added.
However, regular, loyal customers, and old timers expressed their displeasure over the possibility of closure of the market. Vidya Srivastava, communications professional, said it sad to hear that the market might shut.
“I was once an enthusiastic shopper there; and am suddenly feeling terrible that I haven’t gone back in the past few years. To me the market was part of the charm of wintry mornings in Delhi and it will be a huge loss,” she said.
Mohsin Sayeed, medical practitioner, said this market had inspired several, including him to continue reading. “I did my schooling and graduation, reading books purchased from this market. It is usual for my four-year-old kid to go there with me and get fascinated. It is disturbing even to think about losing such a legacy,” he said.
Banojyotsna Lahiri, faculty, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University said the Sunday market is one of the charms of Delhi. “This is a market for which book lovers do not mind waking up early on a Sunday morning. Hunting for books is exciting because there is no proper demarcation or segregation. But one that not many people could relate to.”
SEWA Bharat, an NGO, which has been working with vendors, said the government should grant legal recognition and protection , not only to promote the dying art of physical books but also to preserve this market as a cornerstone of historical tradition. “Daryaganj book bazar is a market with over 50 years of history and heritage value, and it is also a source of livelihood for more than 250 book vendors. The government should give vendors their right to fair trade,” Sanchita Mitra, National Coordinator, SEWA Bharat.
The corporation has been carrying out anti-encroachment drive in and around Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid area for the last eight weeks.
Following the crackdown, traders and residents said it is big relief for them and the authorities should put a system in place to prevent encroachers from coming back.
“We have been fighting for this for last 10 years. There are specific court orders but the police and corporation were not implementing them deliberately. We are hopeful that they will keep the area encroachment free as mandated by the court,” said Sanjay Bhargava, president, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.
Burhanuddin, a resident of Jama Masjid area, said the action has streamlined vehicular movement on Netaji Subhash Marg. “The entire stretch would remain blocked due to squatters. Now, it just takes 5-10 minutes to cross the stretch from Lal Quila red light to Delhi Gate crossing,” he said.