On 23 May, the Delhi High Court directed the Chief Secretary to look into the maintenance and unfinished redevelopment work in Chandni Chowk. The court had to step in to ensure that the market does not deteriorate as a lot of money, time and effort had already been invested in renovation work.
It all began in 2018, when the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) and Delhi’s Public Works Department (PWD) were entrusted with resurrecting the 400-year-old legacy of Chandni Chowk. The most visible change was the 1.3-km stretch of red sandstone and granite pavement extending from the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid.
To get the project up and running, a committee was formed with officers from each public department working with Renu Sharma (Additional Secretary, PWD) as the Chief Nodal Officer (CNO).
More than 50 meetings were held to monitor the project over the next four years. The project deadline, set for June 2019, was missed. When the pandemic struck, the project was put on hold for a while.
After Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the Delhi Government planned to inaugurate it as soon as possible. However, according to the Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal, there is still much work to be done.
During the last meeting called by CNO Renu Sharma’s tenure on 26 August 2021, the following unfinished tasks were listed:
- Declaring Chandni Chowk a no-vehicle zone from 9 am to 9 pm
- Installing CCTV cameras
- Installing boom barriers (to stop unauthorized vehicles)
- Allotment of two ambulances to the market in case of emergency
- A proper traffic management plan
When the inauguration was done by Delhi Chief Minister on 12 September 2021, these gaps still remained. Within a month, the reality came to light when Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia decided to pay a surprise visit and was very upset with what he saw.
He requested a meeting on 8 October 2021 and informed everyone about the issues he observed two days earlier during the inspection at 7.30 pm:
- Overcrowding of rickshaws
- Squatters on footpaths
- Loading-unloading activity beyond stipulated time
- Entry of bikes, cars during pedestrian-only time
- Poor cleanliness
Sisodia suggested these changes:
- 17 electric boom barriers to be activated
- License permits for 400 cycle rickshaws only in designated areas
- Heavy penalties for littering, spitting and illegal hawking by police patrols
- Regular mechanized cleaning/washing of the entire streets (including toilets)
- Establish beats manned by civil defence volunteers every 50 metres
- Building a vibrant cultural space
On 13 January 2022, the High Court requested a status report on the matter. When this came, it was discovered that there has been no progress in the past three months. It repeated the previously resolved issues while ignoring the outstanding problems.
On the ground, the situation is dismal. Within a year, everything appears to be going downhill: sanitation, crowd management, rule violations and land encroachment. Trees are withering, street lights are not working, clothes are being dried on wires.
Patriot interviewed the president of Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal Sanjay Bhargava, who actively participated in the redevelopment program. “This place is a total mess, and the saddest part is that no one is looking after it or trying to change things,” he said. “Go outside and look; there are vehicles all around. It’s a non-motorized road between 9 am and 9 pm, but in the evening at 4, you’ll see tons of vehicles moving freely.”
Bhargava points out, “There’s hardly any help from the police either. In a crowded area like this, patrolling rarely happens. When you visit Chandni Chowk even today, the first thing people tell you is to take care of your belongings. Eve teasing cases are also increasing.”
Even the lawyer engaged by the traders association, advocate of the High Court Sanjeev Ralli says, “I’m not keeping my hopes high. I’ve been a part of many hearings like this. Let’s just see what happens.”
Bhargava adds, “If I go for a walk right now, I’m sure I’ll see at least 50 rules broken. It makes a mockery of the administration and its resources, yet no one is doing anything about it. I’ve posted about it online as well, but I’ve received no response from them”.
He points out that Chandni Chowk is designed to handle a thousand shoppers, but every day nearly one lakh people visit.
“My Twitter feed is full of complaints to the Delhi government, PWD, Lt Governor of Delhi and SRDC, but it appears that I’m pleading my case to people who aren’t interested in hearing it”, Bhargava says.
Bhargava concluded the interview by saying, “We are hopeful that changes will be made as a result of the recent Delhi High Court order. Whatever progress has been made in this project since its inauguration has been due to the Delhi High Court’s intervention, for which Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal is grateful, but if we don’t get a resolution to our grievances this time, we will not hesitate to file a contempt of court petition.”
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