The trams of Shahjahanabad are long gone, and with them has passed a way of life. Septuagenarian businessman Krishan Mohan Singh, who grew up in Dariba Kalan – the Walled City’s silver street – misses both but rues the loss of neither. What galls him is the decay that has beset his home of 72 years.
Dariba today is a neighbourhood propped up on 17th-century planning and tottering under the 21st-century pressures of population, commercialization , and neglect.
“Whenever there is a downpour , the road outside my itra shop goes knee-deep under water,” said Singh, co-owner of probably the city’s oldest perfumery, Gulabsingh Johrimal. Even when the weather is pleasant, Singh hesitates to venture into neighbouring Chandni Chowk, Shahjahanabad’s main thoroughfare, and Jama Masjid, once the life of the old city. The elbowing and rude language that mark such forays are a world removed from the easy days of his youth, when one breezed through the neighbourhood on unhurried trams.
Singh said it’s ironic that the Walled City has been accorded ‘Special Area’ status – under Master Plan of Delhi 2001 (MPD) – when the whole area bears a decrepit look and has become hazardous to live in.
The Chandni Chowk market, for instance, is crying for basic amenities despite being the oldest and one of the biggest wholesale markets of the capital. The two lakh traders, shoppers and tourists who flood it everyday traverse a minefield of broken footpaths, loose and lowslung electric cables, rickshaws that are a law unto themselves, and encroachments by shops and hawkers. “It might be a special area, but it is not on anybody’s priority list. The pavements were made nearly a decade back. No one is bothered about improving basic facilities. It took them nearly five years to prepare a redevelopment plan, which has not taken off even after obtaining all permissions,” said Sanjay Bhargava, general secretary, Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal.
The conditions are even worse in the Jama Masjid area. Here, sewers backflow into houses and stormwater spills over thresholds every time it rains. But potable water is a luxury . “In the last 40 years, I have seen no major development work in the area. The population is increasing and the existing infrastructure is not able to take the load,” said Feroz Bakht Ahmed, a heritage lover.
“We keep on complaining to the area councillor , but no one listens to us. The drainage system is pathetic,” said Mohammad Asif, who has a paper business in Chawri Bazaar. People living in this area mostly bind books, make paper bags, and manufacture machine parts. The katras (wholesale markets), such as Dariba Kalan, the cloth market, Kinari Bazaar, and Ballimaran that span the ground between Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid, are literally a firetrap now. Hemmed in by encroachments and illegal construction, the market lanes narrow into dark, claustrophobic tunnels. Where houses remain, balconies touch.
In Katra Neel, a residential-cumcommercial area in Chandni Chowk, a web of cables dangles dangerously low and the houses are so close that sunlight cannot filter inside them. “There is no cross ventilation. Nearly 10-15 people live in a small room. With each day, the area is becoming unfit for living,” said Pradeep, a shopkeeper.
The shifting out of manufacturing units and wholesale markets is one of the thrust areas of planning for Shahjahanabad. But with Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) unable to implement the MPD-2021 provisions in this regard, the mess continues to grow.
Though the MPD banned starting of new units in this area, commercialisation has continued apace. “Almost every week a haveli turns into a commercial centre,” said Krishan Mohan Singh.
MCD, however, insists it is not a mute witness to the rampant commercialisation. “We regularly take action against unauthorized construction . The wholesale markets have to be shifted out, but it is for DDA to provide the space and develop infrastructure,” said Deep Mathur , director, press and information, MCD.
As if the collapse of planning, power and sanitation wasn’t enough to make life difficult for residents, worsening traffic congestion has made the situation hellish. Despite court orders banning rickshaws in the main market, they continue to ply. MCD and Delhi Traffic Police both plead helplessness in the matter and pass the buck to each other.
While conditions in both Chandni Chowk and the Jama Masjid area have deteriorated, redevelopment projects conceived specifically for these two heritage neighbourhoods five years ago have not taken off. Residents and businessmen now feel these plans have hit the area’s upkeep, as councillors leave many maintenance works to the pending projects.
In his defence, MCD councillor Suman Kumar Gupta said, “If I get a road made, it gets dug up the next day, as there is a sewer or waterlogging problem. The pavements in the market will be made under the redevelopment plan, so why should we spend money on them unnecessarily?”
While the Rs 19-crore Chandni Chowk Redevelopment Project was approved by Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna in March, MCD is said to be waiting for Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC), which will monitor and fund the projects, to release Rs 12 crore. On its part, MCD has not appointed an architect for the project so far. “It took some time to get approval and allocation of funds. The work will start soon. MCD is yet to appoint a consultant to prepare the working drawings for the project. We are in dialogue with the civic agency,” said a senior SRDC member.
However, Chandni Chowk MP and human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal, is confident the project will start from August 12. “It took a lot of time to build consensus. There were huge demands from stakeholders and we had to keep in mind their concerns. After several drafts, the project is finally ready to be implemented . We will start the project from August 12,” said Sibal.
Apart from these redevelopment projects, MCD is also tasked with preparing a Special Area Redevelopment Plan for entire Shahjahanabad . “The draft plan is ready and we have submitted it to Delhi Development Authority for their comments,” said Mathu