When the MCD (Delhi MCD) issued notices to over 2000 shopkeepers in Chandni Chowk regarding outstanding charges and parking on March 16, 2023, they approached Delhi Mayor Shelly Oberoi.
The MCD officers issued a notice to the traders for reasons such as outstanding amounts and parking charges, and they were ordered to pay them within 48 hours. Following that, a group of shopkeepers went to meet with Oberoi. The newly elected mayor assured the shopkeepers that the sealing would be prohibited and that the notice would be cancelled as soon as possible.
While this incident sparked a series of blame games between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party in the run-up to the mayoral elections, the Aam Aadmi Party promised to drop the charges. It’s the traders who are suffering the most.
What are conversion charges?
When the status of a property changes from residential to commercial, the owner of the property has to pay charges known as “conversion charges”.
However, the traders have labelled this action as illegal and unjustified, claiming that the area has been commercial for centuries and that there is no need to pay conversion fees.
Patriot contacted the traders to see how the decision has affected them.
Prakash Jain, who owns a clothing shop in Chandni Chowk, tells Patriot that it’s just an indirect move to steal money.
“The market has been down since the pandemic, and just as things were getting back on track, we now have to pay these conversion and parking charges. We rarely get good business these days, and now these officers want us to pay more. Kaha se laenge paise (from where will we pay them)? I’ve been told that because the area has become commercial, we must pay fees, but this has always been the case, not just today, but for centuries,” said Jain.
Jain continued, “I’m having trouble paying my employees; salaries, and these people say if you don’t pay the charges, my shop will close. Is this how we’re going to work here even after spending 30 years here.”
Naveen Bansal, a trader who sells at Chandni Chowk’s Nayi Sadak, tells Patriot the issue is not new and there’s always something happening and most of the times it’s troublesome.
“We’ve been here for over 30 years. I’m the second generation, and the business has declined dramatically over the years, with little room for expansion. We’re barely making ends meet here; we’re stuck here. We’ve devoted our lives to this business, and after that, if you have to pay extra charges and are troubled consistently over various things, then what are we going to do?”
What kind of charges are you talking about?
Bansal said Chandni Chowk is considered a special economic zone. “The area has been a commercial market since its inception, so how come we’re asked to pay conversion charges when there has been no change?”
Mahaveer Singh, who sells hardware items, asks the officials to revoke the notice. “We have been told by the Mayor that the order will be revoked but there’s no written confirmation of it. We are opening our shops, doing our work but we don’t know what will happen next. We are somehow scared.”
A group of traders had gone to the Mayor’s office and asked for help, and we’ve been told that the issue will be resolved.
When asked about how hopeful Singh is after the Mayor’s assurance, Singh said, “We can’t say anything until our problem is resolved. I’ve heard a lot of these assurances, but seldom has any issue been resolved here; the problems just keep getting worse and the solutions keep getting delayed.”
Singh further added that many promises are made for the market; there were supposed to be redevelopment plans, infrastructure had to be improved, and the 10-point programme manifesto.
“Recently, I heard that a few markets would be redeveloped for festivals, but nothing has happened, it’s still the same, so I can’t say anything right now, but based on previous incidents, I’m pretty sceptical of what’s going to happen next.”
Patriot next contacted Sanjay Bhargava, Head of the Markets Traders Association, who said that the issue is an intentional step to harass the traders and is a senseless notice in the first place.
The conversion charge is applicable when a residential area has been converted into a commercial one.
The Master Plan 2021 clearly states that the markets that existed before 1962, such as Chandni Chowk Market, Sadar Bazaar, and Khari Baoli—all these markets are mentioned in the master plan; these are called “commercial markets”.
“There is no point in charging conversion fees in a Mughal-era market, which is already a commercial market,” said Bhargava.
This issue has been ongoing since last year.
“It is harassment of traders, it is illegal, and it is a failed attempt to garner some extra money—nothing else.
If we’re not given the proper solution, we’ll have to go to court, but already we’re fighting so many cases that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll just have to wait and watch.”
Patriot tried to contact the MCD officials but calls were unanswered and till now no response has been received through emails as well.
However, in a report published by PTI, a MCD official’s statement has been recorded which said: “It is a normal and regular practice. There is no point in politicising it. We have issued notices to traders as per the rules and they need to pay charges.”