Pedestrians compete with rickshaws at Chandni Chowk’s overhauled street

The 1.3 km stretch between Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid is ready for its formal inauguration on September 12. But while it has been promoted as a pedestrianized area — it doesn’t, as one would expect, give a complete ease of movement

The evening rush in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, while nothing like pre-Covid days, belies the threat of the pandemic raging out of control again. But what also makes this busy marketplace different now is the makeover it has received as part of Delhi government’s revitalization plans under the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC).

The 1.3 km stretch between Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid is almost ready for its formal inauguration which will be done on September 12. But while it has been promoted as a pedestrianized area, one has to almost constantly watch their back and jostle for space with rickshaw pullers. It doesn’t, as one would expect, give a complete ease of movement.  

And this is unlikely to change, as Zonal Development Plan of Zone “A” of the Walled city says, “In specific areas of the Walled City and Chandni Chowk the use of cycles/rickshaw as a non-motorized mode of transport is proposed as suggested in the MPD 2021 (Master Plan of Delhi 2021) and it should be cautiously (sic) along with the pedestrianisation at the time of preparation of redevelopment scheme.”

While the 1.3 km of road was to be completed in 2020, because of Covid work was delayed. A picture from last year September (top) and now, 2021 (bottom) after its makeover // Credit: Sashikala VP

The Project Concept Proposal of the ‘Revitalization of Shahjahanabad (Walled City of Delhi)’ does however state the need for “new non-polluting e-rickshaws” in place of slow moving non-motorised vehicles to fasten traffic movement. One of the ideas stated in the proposal for the walled city is to have solar powered trams from Fatehpuri Chowk to Daryaganj, automated cycle stations through public private partnership and technologically improvised manual-cycle rickshaws with gears within walled city.

According to a report in the Indian Express, officials are working on redesigning the cycle rickshaws and electric golf carts, to ply in the area. The old, and manually driven rickshaws will be phased out. Registrations and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags will be made mandatory for each rickshaw.

And while ease of movement is required, officials will also need to look at the livelihood of rickshaw pullers who according to the project concept proposal make up for a large concentration of homeless. “As per survey, the largest numbers of homeless in Delhi were found to be concentrated in the Central district accounting to 25 percent of homeless in Delhi. They were usually rag-pickers, rickshaw-pullers, construction workers, and porters, among others. Their contribution was invaluable in running the city’s business and easing the daily life of its people.”

The revamped market place inaugurated by the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal PHOTO: Twitter

For now, officials will be focused on getting the marketplace inaugurated this month as the deadline for the project has seen many delays. The first deadline for the project was last year March, which had to be revised to March 2021 this year, due to the pandemic and its resultant lockdown. While restrictions eventually eased with resumption of construction activity, with April this year seeing a deadly wave of Covid in the Capital meant everything stopped again.  

Work on the stretch will be completed by September 5, which will then be set for inauguration by the chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal later. The market was finally inaugurated by the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday, 12 September and he announced that the entire area will be transformed into a tourist hub by allowing street food joints to operate till midnight.

Addressing the gathering near Fountain Chowk in the Chandni Chowk main market, Kejriwal said after the redevelopment, Chandni Chowk has become more beautiful and people come here to walk till midnight.

Kejriwal said earlier broken roads, dangling wires, traffic congestion were synonymous with Chandni Chowk but now it has become beautiful and aesthetically appealing. “Chandni Chowk had a very dirty image. We have beautified almost 1.4 km stretch of the Chandni Chowk market and made it extremely beautiful. Traffic on the stretch was improved, dangling wires were made underground, and CCTVs were installed under the redevelopment project, Kejriwal said.

The stretch has been made a “no traffic zone” for motorised vehicles between 9 am and 9 pm. According to PWD officials, the project was approved in August 2018 and work on it began in December 2018. Delhi Urban Development minister Satyendar Jain, Food and Civil Supplies minister Imran Hussain and area MLA Parlad Singh Sawhney along with senior officials of PWD and the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) were present during the ceremony.

In the redevelopment project, priority has been given to pedestrian facilities as nearly 2.5 metre wide footpath has been provided for them. The redeveloped stretch has 197 electric poles and 124 CCTV cameras have been installed all over the area. Jain said the area will be given a further facelift. “We will soon operate electrical vehicles that match with the look of the area for the convenience of people. This redevelopment work is a glimpse of how the Delhi government will make entire Delhi the most beautiful city in the world,” Jain said.

Provision has been made for unisex toilets and ramps for people with disabilities. It has ‘divyang’ friendly tactile flooring as well, it said. Four earthen and sandstone signages have been installed on which information has been given in Hindi, English, Urdu and Punjabi. Seating bollards and sandstone seats have been installed on the road so that the tourists do not get inconvenienced, the statement said. Meanwhile, Delhi BJP workers along with a section of traders of the area staged a “silent protest” during the inauguration.

Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said after the redevelopment, traders of the area are finding it difficult to load-unload their goods as the entire region has been made a “non-motorised zone”.

“Traders of the area are not happy as they are facing issues in loading unloading of goods. Waterlogging in the area is also bothering traders and residents of the area. The government should increase the time limit to load unload goods in the market,” Kapoor said.

(Cover: In the pedestrianized area of Chandni Chowk, one still needs to watch their back as rickshaws jostle for space // Credit: Sashikala VP)

With inputs from PTI

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