Three master plans, 50 years, same Old Delhi
Ashok Mathur (48), a fifth generation resident of Shahjahanabad, dreads medical emergencies.
The nearest healthcare facility is just 2km away from his Roshanpura residence in Nai Sadak, but moving a person in case of an emergency can be a nightmare given the perpetual traffic snarls in streets of old Delhi. With his aging parents suffering from cardiac ailments, Mathur is afraid that in case of an emergency he may find himself stuck.
The area, identified as one of the three major trade centres in Master Plan Delhi (MPD) 2021, sees hectic commercial activity through the day. Defying the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) directives, loading and unloading of goods take place even during the restricted time causing traffic disruption. “I don’t want to move out as our roots are here. We try to tweak our lifestyle to make up for the poor infrastructure,” said Mathur.
The MPD 2021 suggested a comprehensive traffic plan comprising road widening, reserving lanes for cyclists, corridors for non-motorised vehicles and parking lots. Similar measures to improve traffic in the Walled City were also presented in the first master plan in 1962 as well as the second one in 2001. “MPD 2021 stressed on removing encroachments, making the traffic one-way and arranging for parking space to decongest Shahjahanabad. The authorities have failed to implement a single MPD plan,” Mathur said.
Mohammed Nawabuddin (42), a resident of Kucha Pandit corroborates Mathur.
Nawabuddin’s elder brother Mohammed Raeesuddin died in September when he was being taken to GB Pant hospital in a cycle rickshaw. He had a cardiac arrest.
“There is chaos in old Delhi lanes. Even a critical patient has to be ferried on a cycle rickshaw or two-wheelers. From my place, you can reach the hospital in 10 minutes but that day it took us almost an hour. When I reached the hospital, my brother had already died,” he said.
With the help of a relative and social worker, Nawabuddin plans to move the court against the civic and police authorities. “So that no other residents meet the same fate,” he said.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in July 2017 started preparing the master plan for city’s development till 2041 including the special area — Walled City and its extension — with the help of National Institute Urban Affairs (NIUA).
However, stakeholders and experts are not enthused. They believe authorities must first formulate pragmatic guidelines to implement MPD. They say the requirements outlined in the three MPDs (1962, 2001, and 2021) are almost identical but none have made a difference.
“Implementation has been a problem. Shahjahanabad project needs to be worked upon in an integrated and coordinated manner. Residents have to be taken on board. Policies should not be altered under pressure and work should not be undertaken on an ad hoc basis,” said AK Jain, former commissioner (planning).
The city, built by Mughal king Shahjahan around 380 years ago, was spread over 600 hectares and planned for 60,000 people. In 1961, Delhi’s population touched 4.20 lakh and in the following year, Walled City area was notified as a slum.
In 2001, it was estimated that 2.35 lakh people were living in old Delhi. In 2017, the population was around 3.25 lakh people, including the homeless. A report by the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) in 2014 pegged the number of homeless in the area at about 11,500.
The area witnessed a phenomenal increase in commercial establishments after 1961. The number jumped from 22,000 in 1961 to 1.55 lakh in 1981. According the SRDC report, 1. 53 lakh units were still running in 2014, out of which 10.33 per cent were being run out of residences.
A DDA official, who did not want to be named, said the situation deteriorated despite the first MPD proposal to restrict commercial use in the Walled City. “With squirt in trade and commercial activities, havelis were converted into godowns. Single-storey structures were replaced with multilevel complexes. It rendered planning meaningless,” he said.
Sanjay Bhargava, president of Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, said the situation has spiraled in the last two decades. “Last year, around Diwali, there was a fire on the main road. The firemen took an hour to reach the site though the station is just 1km away,” he said.
Atul Garg, chief of Delhi Fire Service corroborated these concerns. He said narrow lanes, encroachments, and illegal parking hamper rescue operations.
The region has major wholesale markets that get thousands of buyers and visitors daily. Some of these markets are: Ajmeri Gate (metals, machinery, automobile parts, hardware and tools), Khari Baoli (dry fruits, spices, oil, and chemicals), Lahori Gate (cereals and grains), Chawri Bazaar (paper and sanitary fittings), Chandni Chowk (garments and general trade), Chitli Bazaar (clothes), Lajpat Rai Market (electronic goods) and Bhagirathi Place (electrical and medicines), and Darya Ganj (publishers).
MPD 1962 called for shifting hazardous industries and redeveloping vacant plots or dilapidated structures as community facilities like schools, toilets, health centres or parks. These were also part of MPD 2021 and MCD’s Zonal Plan 2007.
To implement these measures, the civic bodies and DDA had to develop Integrated Freight Complexes at five locations — Ghazipur, Madanpur Khadar, Dwarka, Najafgarh, and Narela. But the facilities only came up at Narela and Ghazipur.
“Shifting took place only on papers as traders still operate from the market. They are reluctant to shift as facilities are not available at the new complexes. Moreover, the MCD is still granting licence to business here,” said Jain.
Courts have pulled up the DDA and the MCD on several occasions for their inability to move traders. “This is a virtual tinderbox. In case of any accident in this market, the consequences might be terribly fatal and catastrophic,” the Delhi HC had observed while hearing a PIL after the 1999 fire incident at Lal Kuan in which 57 people were killed.
Parveen Shankar Kapoor, secretary, Chandni Chowk Nagrik Manch, who owns a shop in Fatehpuri, blamed the administration. He said involvement of multiple agencies has been counterproductive. “Voluminous deals don’t takes place in the market now. Traders have shifted their godowns to respective locations Ghazipur (paper), Holambi Kalan (chemical), or Narela (cereal or grain). But accessibility and banking are major issues,” he added.
Former commissioner of unified MCD KS Mehra said tenancy disputes are also a major hurdle. He says people, who have been living for years but don’t have ownership rights, can’t be evicted overnight.
“You can’t take away people’s livelihoods or shelter. The process may be time consuming as until you have space, you can’t execute schemes,” Mehra said.
Meanwhile, tenant-proprietor tussle is leading to attrition of old structures in Shahjahanabad. “The price of properties is in crores but landlords get a meagre rent. So, they are not interested in maintenance. They keep struggling to get the possession and the occupants wait till the owners agree to sell the property at throw away price,” said a senior MCD official.
“A family lived in my ancestral property in Lal Kuan for decades. When, I failed to get it back, I stopped the maintenance work. A part of the haveli collapsed in a few years an d finally it was vacated. But I can’t refurbish it now as I don’t have funds,” a property owner said.
The SRDC says that unplanned growth and non-compatible trades have also perpetuated use of havelis as godowns. “The Shahjahanabad redevelopment plan is still to be finalised. It certainly requires an integrated approach or inclusiveness keeping in mind all stakeholders including number of homeless and poor people. The SRDC has prepared a preliminary project report for revitalisation, which is before the Ministry of Urban Development for consideration under HRIDAY scheme,” said Nitin Panigrahi, deputy general manager (project and administation), SRDC.