New Delhi: The historic Chandni Chowk, one of the busiest markets in Old Delhi, has undergone a sea change ever since its first facelift a year ago and is awaiting the second phase of redevelopment.
In September last year, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had inaugurated the new avatar of the iconic market after the first phase of redevelopment was concluded. The second phase of the work, which has been delayed, is likely to start in a couple of months.
The project slowed down after the post of Chief Nodal Officer (CNO) for the project fell vacant after Public Works Department Principal Secretary H. Rajesh Prasad was transferred out of Delhi in September. The reason was reported to be failure to address violations regarding traffic management, cleanliness of toilets and garbage as directed by the Delhi High Court within the stipulated time.
The lack of a CNO looking after the project, said Sanjay Bhargava, businessman and President of Sarv Vyapar Mandal (Traders Welfare Association), had caused the slowdown.
“Things are probably not moving in the second revamp because all the ministers and officials don’t have time. They are all engaged in elections,” said Bhargava.
“Even the first revamp work is not finished yet. Homeless people and hawkers have again taken over the area. The project has been sabotaged because of the uncaring attitude of the authorities,” he added.
However, Ashwani Kumar, special officer, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), was Thursday appointed the new CNO for the project.
Focus on façade restoration in phase 2
According to PWD officials the second phase of the redevelopment work will primarily focus on façade restoration. The other works include improving the arterial and inner roads of Chandni Chowk and redeveloping the Jama Masjid precinct and Netaji Subhash Marg (from Delhi Gate to Kashmiri Gate).
“The façade will remain true to the essence of Chandni Chowk in the form of material used in the area opposite Lal Quila. There are some historical structures still situated on these streets, and their façade will be redeveloped on the theme of old structures. There will be some decoration, including architectural ornamental work to revive its original theme. All the shops will be built on a similar theme,” said Mukul Joshi, the PWD project in-charge.
He referred to the refurbished Golden Temple heritage street in Amritsar as inspiration.
“A project of this size cannot be achieved in one go. Streetscaping was taken on in part one, which has been achieved. But it should not stop, the project should be continued in several other phases and maintained as well. The major focus should now be the assessment of all the heritage buildings. It must be seen what can be achieved in terms of façade restoration, and if it is a government building, it should be conserved,” said Ajay Kumar, Director, Projects, the Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Chaotic streets turn organised
The once chaotic streets of Chandni Chowk — with its hordes of shoppers, air heavy with smell of street food, sweat and calls of sellers — now look organised, thanks to the various new features such as the ‘no-traffic zone’ for motorised vehicles from 9 am to 9 pm and the pedestrian-friendly corridor.
The messy tangle of wires overhead have gone underground and CCTV cameras line the streets, acting as a deterrent for potential rule breakers.
The 1.3 km ‘pedestrian-friendly corridor’ is paved with red granite stone, dotted with colourful planters and brightened by modern lamp posts. There are also benches for people to rest on and dustbins to segregate wastes appropriately and keep the surroundings clean.
While the task of cleanliness has been undertaken by a private company, Sony Management appointed by the Public Works Department (PWD), the managing of vehicular traffic and people is being done by the city’s civil defence volunteers appointed by the administration. Both groups are working in tandem to maintain the vision of the bazaar as imagined in the first phase of the revamp.
“There were many changes last year and a big difference can be seen now. Before there was no such development and not much business, but now everything has improved,” said Arzoo Khan, owner of the Aayan Hearts and Restaurants, who has been working in the market for the past 35 years.
Another vendor, Vinay Gupta of Jai Bhagwati Namkeen shop said the new additions gave them proper breathing space and helped rid the market of the stuffiness that characterised it. “With the proper footpaths, there is much more space to walk around for buyers, which is good for business. The lights are also nice and keep the roads illuminated till late,” he added.
Although the revamped Chandni Chowk, which is also known as Moonlight Square, was officially unveiled last year, many new features have been added since then and more projects are coming up in the refurbished marketplace. One such major project under construction is the ‘Omaxe Chowk’.
A multi-story parking lot-cum-shopping centre, Omaxe Chowk was conceived in 2013 but, despite having received an approval from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), construction began only in 2019 due to various issues, including the NDMC and the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) locking horns over its proposed height.
While the corporation was aiming for 30 metres above road level, DUAC wanted it to be about half that height. The latter rejected the height proposal claiming the structure would mar the aesthetics of the area and could not be permitted even if other agencies have given height relaxation.
The proposed date of its completion, as conveyed by MCD officials, is 8 April 2023 and, according to the developers, 80 per cent of it is already completed.
The mall, constructed on what used to be the Gandhi Maidan parking lot, does not technically fall on the stretch that is part of Chandni Chowk’s pedestrianisation project. Redevelopment of all three parking lots in the area is part of the plan — the other two being Dangal Maidan and Parade Ground.
Termed the “first commercial development in Chandni Chowk in 300 years”, Omaxe Chowk will have five floors, three of them underground. It is expected to accommodate 2,100 cars and 81 tourist buses.
Its commercial complex will have two floors for retail and one floor will be dedicated to a food court. This is the only project taken under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model with former North DMC and is being monitored by the Delhi High Court.
Traders are happy about the shopping complex because of the upcoming parking area since they are expected to get exclusive spaces in the lower basement free of cost.
Praveen Jain, an elderly shopkeeper who owns Kasturi Fashion, said it would be “helpful for everyone” and that he was “happy it was being constructed”.
Other shop owners and even salesmen seemed visibly cheerful about the project, stating that it would be good not just for them but also the visitors complaining about not being able to park their cars in the market. They were optimistic it would bring more business.
The PWD project in-charge added the roads around the Omaxe Chowk will be constructed in a joint venture with MCD, where the latter will approve the plans.
‘Mall changes character of a city’
Surekha Narain, founder of Delhi Metro Walks, an organisation that conducts private guided heritage walks around Old Delhi, however, is of the view that a mall changes the character of any city. “I don’t like the mall concept. The shops have already become ugly because of the change in the traditional facades for commercial purposes ,” she said, adding that she would not be hasty in her judgement though and will wait and see what kind of shops come up there.”
A statement from the now-unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi to ThePrint said they believed the mall “will help in redressing the parking problems of Chandni Chowk area. Thus the pedestrian will be encouraged to visit and vendors will be benefitted”.
Some other additions made to the busy market area as part of phase 1 of the revamp are a row of white meshes (‘jali’ design) on the central verge to protect trees and a new complex near the Fountain Chowk built by the PWD for housing public facilities.
Traders say the white meshes were installed 3 to 4 months ago to protect the plants from the huge crowds.
Monty Roila of the Ashika Collection, a bridal wear shop that has been around for 40 years, pointed out, “The white design in the middle of the road was done only two to three months back, the saplings were also planted then. Some have grown well, while others have not. The MCD car comes in once a week or 15 days to water the plants. But the additional watering of these plants by us determines their growth. See, the trees on our side are tall because we cared for them, in other areas it’s not the same,” he said.
Opened last month, the complex near Fountain Chowk, was built on an erstwhile garbage dump in front of the Chandni Chowk metro station. Public toilets for men, women and the differently-abled line the first floor of the complex, while the upper two floors are currently not in use. It takes the total number of washroom facilities in the market to four. The other three washroom facilities are situated opposite Lal Mandir, near Bhagirath Palace and near Town Hall.
Narain says “It’s a great thing that these toilets have come up. The garbage area was an eyesore, now that has changed and these washrooms are very convenient especially for women shoppers,” she said.
However, Sarv Vyapar Mandal’s Bhargava pointed out that the toilets in the complex have no electricity. “Anyways, all the washrooms are closed at night and all the homeless people urinate and defecate in the open,” he said.
ThePrint, too, visited the complex and found that there was no electricity. According to sanitation workers in the complex, it has been like this for quite some time. The problems with washrooms closing early or being dirty were relayed by other traders and visitors as well.
15 years and counting
The redevelopment project was set in motion after a petition was filed by an NGO, Manushi Sangathan, in 2007 seeking provision of separate lanes for non-motorised vehicles and decongestion of the main Chandni Chowk thoroughfare. It had especially emphasised a cap over the total number of rickshaw licenses issued.
The Delhi High Court ordered the authorities concerned to look into the matter, which led to the redevelopment plan being proposed by the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure Centre, a DDA-constituted body. The plan was approved by then Lt Governor of Delhi Tejinder Khanna on 4 March 2011.
Two years later it was decided that the project had to be carried out in two phases due to the volume of work involved.
There are over two dozen stakeholders in the project, including the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation Delhi, the Jal Board, the Transport Department, DDA, the Indian Railways, the Delhi Government and Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry.
The revised plan with an estimated cost of Rs 65.63 crore was finally approved on 23 August 2019 and subsequently inaugurated the first phase of the work in late 2021.
What are the other concerns?
Bhargava pointed out that there was no restriction of vehicular movement in the area by the police, which is a violation of the court order.
One of the civil defence volunteers engaged by the administration informed ThePrint that after the revamp the rickshaws on roads were more than the designated number allowed — 400 — and nothing was being done about it.
When ThePrint reached MCD officials for a comment on the state of the public facilities and the traffic, they passed the buck to the PWD, which is yet to respond. The copy will be updated once a response is received from the PWD.
(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)