Updated: June 18, 2021 8:56:22 pm
Two steel filigree gates opposite the Red Fort mark the entrance to the redeveloped 1.3-km stretch in Chandni Chowk. While one of the gates is locked, the other is only open for ‘thelas’ ferrying goods, rickshaws, and Delhi Police or Public Works Department vehicles. There are gaps for pedestrians to pass through.
Last week, the area was notified as a non-motorised zone. As per a gazette notification issued by the Transport Department on June 14, no motor vehicle shall be allowed to ply on the main Chandni Chowk Road from Red Fort to Fatehpuri Mosque from 9 am to 9 pm on all days.
The Indian Express visited the pedestrianised stretch on Friday and found that while the bustle has returned to the market, business has not.
At the entrance, over 20 rickshaw pullers shouted out to pedestrians to catch their attention. Habibul Rehman (40), who has worked as a rickshaw puller in the area since he was 18, said, “Earlier, we used to get tired and take breaks… we never had to search for customers. Now, we have to call customers.” He could not afford train tickets to his village in Bihar throughout the lockdown and had to stay in the city.
Habibul and his colleagues are worried about licences. While they are allowed on the stretch for now, they said they have to apply for licences at the MCD office soon.
The rush was mainly concentrated around ‘Parathe Wali’ gali. Loudspeakers played announcements by Delhi Police – on loop – regarding social distancing.
Despite the rush, vendors said they are hardly making any sales yet. Deepak Jain, who sells women’s clothes, anxiously waited for customers. He started the shop in early April after working as a salesperson for over five years and saving up for his own store. However, the board over his shop remains blank. “I still have to pay rent and electricity and don’t have any sales. I will close the shop soon,” he said, adding that he will try to send the clothes back to Ahmedabad but would still make huge losses. A few metres down the road, owners of decade-old stores said that they stare a similar fate. Arihant Jain (31), whose family owns a lehenga store, said, “If you are hit once, you will manage to get up and stand tall. But when you are hit twice, you will faint the second time. This is what is happening to us now.” He said they had begun to recover losses after the first lockdown but are now running at a 10% loss.
Currency exchange services in the area display only Indian notes. Ankush Gupta, who runs a currency exchange with his father, said business will only return to normal once tourism resumes. “Most tourists are from the US. The redevelopment will eventually attract more customers because people like walking on pedestrian friendly roads. But we will have to wait at least two years for tourism to return to normalcy, and the word of Chandni Chowk Redevelopment to spread all over the world,” he said.
Liqayat Ali, who sells shoes and pillow covers, said, “There are no serious shoppers now. But that is because the public was financially hit. If they do not have food to eat, they will obviously not invest in things like these.”
Meanwhile, some work on the stretch remains. The first half is complete, with light poles and bougainvillea in stone planters lining the stretch. Outside Fatehpuri mosque, lamps and CCTVs are yet to be installed.
Amit Kumar (25), a labourer, worked to cover up remaining gaps on the road with tiles. He said he was put up at a labour camp behind the Town Hall during the lockdown. Most workers had gone home but have started returning in the last few days and they said their work will be completed by Sunday.
The vertical stretch in front of the mosque has been redeveloped too, beyond which boulders have been set up. Arterial roads and building facades are to be included in the second phase of the redevelopment, which is in planning stages.
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