Is Khan Market next? Traders anxious over sealing drive in Delhi markets
“Is Khan Market next?” asked an anxious 21-year-old Christmas reveller, Swati, when asked if she was aware of the recent sealing action at Defence Colony market.
“It can’t be. It has the best cafes and eateries in town and you can’t shut it down on a whim,” she said, before disappearing into the narrow stairways of one of the many Khan Market cafes on Monday.
Armed with a Supreme Court order and backed by the apex court-appointed committee, civic agencies are on a warpath against property owners running commercial establishments without paying conversion charges.
After the Defence Colony market faced action on Friday and more South Delhi markets expecting to see sealing drives from Tuesday, Hindustan Times visited Khan Market, the 24th most expensive retail location in the world and the costliest to hire a shop in India, to find out if shops in this Central Delhi hub might come under the scanner.
Sanjeev Mehra, president of the Khan Market Traders Association, said non-payment of conversion charges was not an issue for the shops and eateries operating here.
“People who are running commercial establishments have all paid conversion charges to the tune of R20-25 lakh. One or two even had to cough up R1 crore to get their particular residential flats on the first floor converted into commercial complexes,” Mehra told Hindustan Times.
There are 156 shops and 74 residential spaces in Khan Market, which was set up as a neighbourhood market in 1950. The area was provided by the Ministry of Social Welfare to refugees from the North Western Frontier Province after Partition.
It was initially meant for shops on the ground floor and residential flats on the first floor. Till 1980, there were only two commercial shops in the upper floors. In 1974, two flats were converted into commercial, while in 2000, one more was converted. In 2004, Delhi High Court issued a mandamus, directing the L&DO to allow the conversion.
Traders, however, are scared of the second aspect being looked into by the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee—the unauthorised constructions.
“We might have to pay the price. The New Delhi Municipal Council has to take drastic immediate steps. It has to give a standard layout plan. Either give proper permission to owners to make changes or don’t allow any deviation. This grey area can give us a big headache,” Mehra said.
Of the 74 residential spaces on the first and second floors, 44 are engaged in commercial activities housing 30 restaurants, while another 10 eateries are located on the ground floor.
New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) estate department officials were not available for comment. A building department official said if the shops got conversion done from residential to commercial, they should not face any problem.
On December 15, the Supreme Court revived a three-member committee that had ordered sealing of thousands of establishments between 2006 and 2012. The committee includes KJ Rao, former advisor to the Election Commission, Bhure Lal, chairman of Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) and Major General (retd) Som Jhingan as members.
The panel is supposed to furnish the details of sealing exercise on a website which is under process. Sources said as many as 110 instances of sealing would be up on the website by January 10 before the case comes up for hearing in the apex court.
The South Extension, Green Park, Hauz Khas and Greater Kailash markets might face sealing action next.