“Chamak jaayega Chandni Chowk,” said 52-year-old Bobby Yadav, a flour mill owner at Maliwara market on a slow weekday in the neighbourhood. While the lanes of Kucha Mahajani, Dariba Kalan and Paranthewali Gali are almost empty, the hustle-bustle is outside, on the main road, where a 1.3 km-long stretch from Fatehpuri Masjid to the Red Fort is being redeveloped.
Work on the ambitious Chandni Chowk redevelopment project started in 2018, after hitting several road bumps since 2004, and is set to be completed by November this year — a delay of eight months due to Covid and the lockdown.
Apart from the “Mughal aesthetic” that can be seen in the red sandstone bollards, planters and the benches, the big draw is that the stretch will be a car-free zone.
It is this aspect that remains a bone of contention and a talking point in Chandni Chowk. Babli Singhal (50), who runs a lace store in Paranthewali Gali, said, “Apart from brides and wedding parties, my major clients are women who run boutiques in South Delhi, Gurgaon and Manesar. The moment they heard this will be a car-free stretch, they seemed reluctant to come, and preferred going to another market or getting their order couriered. The pace of work is also slow, and since everything is dug up, we have lost clients. We were hoping that by March, the area would be ready, but then a delay happened due to the virus.”
But next door, 22-year-old Abhishek Sharma, who now manages the iconic Sharma Bhojanalya which was opened by his grandfather around 60 years ago, said the project will “benefit the market and the older generation will have to make some changes”. “We live in Kinari Bazaar nearby and work in Paranthewali Gali. Chandni Chowk has been home to us for generations, and I am glad to see these changes… The air will be cleaner, the road will have no traffic, no constant headache of honking cars.”
So far, 70 percent of work on the stretch, which includes fixing water lines and putting wires underground by Delhi Jal Board and BSES, has been completed. Apart from this, 95 percent of work in the first 400 metres, till Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, has been completed. Nitin Panigrahi, nodal officer of the Chandni Chowk Redevelopment Plan, said, “The project is coming along as planned. The underground work by the Delhi Jal Board and BSES has been completed.
Surface work is yet to be completed. There will be four toilets and two police booths too. There will be an integrated traffic management plan and entry will be restricted from roads such as Lal Kuan to ensure traffic does not enter from the rear.”
In the afternoon, rickshaws and carts were parked next to the bollards, and a group of “kaan maeliye” or ear cleaners awaited business. “This project is good for our business too. The moment Chandni Chowk becomes a proper tourist spot, it will attract more foreigners, who are our main clients. Locals don’t care for kaan maeliye… What we do is exotic only for non-Indians,” said Salim Khan (33), one of the ear-cleaners, as others joked about having the majestic Red Fort in the background while cleaning ears.
Thirty-year-old Kamran, a business analyst who lives in Gali Chowkidar Wali, said that the area being turned into a car-free zone for tourists could spell trouble for residents. “Now I have to take a very long route to get out of old Delhi. What if there is an emergency?”
The stretch will be car free from 9 am to 9 pm, after which cars, trucks and other vehicles that help with loading and off-loading will be allowed. Said Priyank Sharma (24) of Ram Vilas Milk Merchants, a milk shop set up in 1943 at Kucha Mahajani: “For years, we have had free parking outside the gali but now we pay Rs 200 per day for parking at the Old Delhi railway station, and we don’t mind it. This is our city, we have to allow it to breathe. We are a bit hassled, but if this can end traffic on the stretch, I don’t mind the sacrifice.”
(With inputs from Ashna Butani)
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