Six years on, Chandini Chowk yet to be redeveloped

New Delhi, June 9 (IANS) Once known as the silver street and home to poets and musicians, Chandni Chowk in the Indian capital’s old quarters is now a nightmare for motorists, residents and the tourists alike. The much talked about makeover plan to restore the area to its Mughal-era glory has been hanging fire for the past six years with the agencies concerned passing the buck to one another.

Now the Delhi government is keen to revive the plan to re-develop the Shahjahanabad area – of which Chandni Chowk is a congested commercial centre that has also the capital’s wholesale market – where power cables dangle overhead, dinghy, labyrinthine lanes and choc-a-bloc traffic have marred the original look of the place that was perhaps at its pristine best during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666).

Multiplicity of authorities, confused decision-making and lack of political will are the reasons behind the inordinate delay in reviving the plan, various officials told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The makeover project first got the nod in 2007. It was originally the job of the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled civic agency to re-develop the area, which also houses Asia’s largest electronics market, and then the Congress-led Delhi government took it over. Though much water has flown down the Yamuna, the project never took off.

Interestingly, the project was inaugurated twice – including once by cabinet minister Kapil Sibal, who represents Chandni Chowk in the Lok Sabha.

The plan for re-developing the area has also changed from time to time – depending on which agency was handling the project.

“The earlier plan prepared by the consultant suggested prohibiting motor vehicles in the area, but we have changed the plan as it is not possible. We will soon send the changed plan to the Unified Traffic And Transportation Infrastructure for approval,” a top official told IANS.

Consultant Abhimanyu Dalal, who was entrusted with the task of preparing the plan five years ago, has lost hope.

“I don’t think that the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Project will see the light of day. According to our plan, we were to have a 30-metre-wide road with separate lanes for cyclists, pedestrians and for electric buses,” Dalal said.

Dalal rues that “everything looks fancy on paper, but the plan has not been implemented for years”.

“We had suggested that the 1.3 km-Chandni Chowk road should be opened for motorists only from 9 p.m. till 9 a.m. How will you be able to bring a semblance of the Mughal era with cars running around the area?” he asked.

The plan envisages four plazas, including one near the 17th century Fatehpuri Mosque.

“A clock tower (near Sisganj Gurdwara) which was badly damaged in an earthquake in around 1930s will be repaired too,” Dalal said.

At the moment, the Public Works Department (PWD) is overseeing the project.

According to a top PWD official, heritage lights will be installed in the area and the power cables will be taken underground.

The plan, however, got a thumbs down from the business community.

Confederation of All India Traders’ secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said traders have never been involved in the decision-making process. “The plan has been designed by those who sit in air-conditioned offices. There are 150 wholesale markets in the area. How can you not allow vehicles in the area? How will the business of traders run?” Khandelwal asked.

He also questioned the Congress-led Delhi government’s decision to re-launch the project.

“Now the government is trying to expedite the process of implementing the plan as the Sheila Dikshit government wants to take credit for it before the assembly elections,” he adds. Elections are due in Delhi later this year.

Delhi BJP unit leader Vijender Gupta blamed the “inefficiency” of the government, which he said has led to problems in implementing the revival plan. “It is an ambitious programme but I don’t see it getting implemented soon,” Gupta told IANS.

Once known for being the cultural hub of Delhi where the city’s elite dwelled, the Walled City is crying for attention.

“It is just the apathy of the various agencies that has led to this chaos and confusion. It has become a place where shoppers and tourists are scared to venture. We just hope something is done – and soon,” Nishant Jain, a resident who has now moved to a cleaner and better area in Delhi, told IANS.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])

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